NHS backlog for routine treatment hits 6MILLION:
Nearly 6million people are on the NHS waiting list for routine treatment in England and more than 10,000 people waited 12-plus hours to be seen in A&E last month, damning official figures revealed today as the health service buckles under the pressure of pandemic backlogs ahead of a surge in Omicron Covid admissions.
Data released by NHS England shows a record 5.98million people were waiting for routine surgery in October, up from 5.83million the month before. More than 300,000 have now been queuing for at least a year.
It means more than one in 10 people in England are stuck on the waiting list, often in pain, for elective operations such as hip and knee replacements and cataracts surgery.
At the same time, separate data shows A&E performance plummetted to its worst ever level in November, with a record 10,600 people waiting more than 12 hours to be treated — three times longer than the NHS target.
Health bosses argue the NHS is battling multiple crises at once, with staff shortages, winter pressures, pandemic backlogs and Covid all adding to the strain on the health system.
Hospitals say patients are pouring back into the NHS after putting off treatment during the pandemic often with worsened conditions, which is exposing staff shortages.
Yet GPs and nurses have been asked to help speed up the nation’s turbocharged booster vaccination programme which aims to offer all 53million adults a booster by the end of January.
Routine doctor appointments for the over-75s have been scrapped with millions set to miss out on crucial check-ups and minor surgeries have been postponed until March to free up staff to dish out boosters. GPs are being incentivised with up to £30 funding bonuses per jab.
The soaring waiting lists come against the backdrop of a looming wave of Omicron, with the super-mutant variant expected to cause thousands of hospital admissions per day this winter in a worst-case scenario.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid last month warned the backlog would ‘go up before it comes down’ because around eight million people expected to come forward during the pandemic stayed away from the health service. Earlier this year, he warned the waiting list could hit 13million if urgent action wasn’t taken.
Data released by NHS England shows a record 5.98million people were waiting for routine surgery in October, up from 5.83million the month before. When the pandemic hit last March, 4.2million people were in the queue for hospital treatment
NHS England data on A&E attendances in November shows the number of patients spending more than 12 hours to be seen reached 10,646. The figure is a 51 per cent hike on the figure last month (7,059), which was already at a record level. For comparison, in the year before the pandemic, around 1,000 patients were forced to wait more than 12 hours every month
Health service data for England shows 120,749 people had to wait more than four hours — the NHS target — to receive care in November. The figure is the second-highest ever recorded and only slightly fewer than last month (121,251). The proportion of patients seen within four hours at major emergency departments remained at 61.9 per cent for the second month in a row (shown in graph), which is the lowest number since records began in 2010
Sajid Javid warns Britain could breach 1MILLION cases of Omicron by the end of December as Chris Whitty says Covid hospitalisations could hit 1,000 a day by New Year
Britain could breach 1million Omicron cases by the end of December, Health Secretary Sajid Javid warned today as the Government activated its ‘Plan B’ after SAGE warned the NHS was on track to being overwhelmed without tougher curbs.
Justifying the tightening of restrictions in the Commons tonight, the Health Secretary told MPs he had been briefed by No10 scientists that the country was staring down the barrel of a seven-figure infection numbers in a matter of weeks.
Mr Javid said: ‘Although there are only 568 confirmed Omicron cases in the UK we know that the actual number of infections will be significantly higher.
‘The UK health security agency estimates that the number of infections are approximately 20 times higher than the number of confirmed cases, and so the current number of infections is probably closer to 10,000.
‘UKHSA also estimate that at the current observed doubling rate of between two and a half and three days, by the end of this month, infections could exceed 1million.’
Professor Chris Whitty warned that a meteoric rise in infections could send hospitalisations spiralling upwards over the coming weeks.
He told the briefing: ‘That is an extraordinarily fast rate and you, therefore, can see how we could move from very small numbers to very large numbers really quite quickly.
‘That really is the reason why these measures [Plan B] have been announced by the Prime Minister as agreed by ministers today.’
The NHS England data shows the mammoth waiting list has nearly reached six million, up from an average of 4.4million in the year before Covid hit the UK.
The health service’s own rules say patients should not wait longer than 18 weeks from referral to treatment. But a third of patients are not being seen within this timeframe.
More than 2million had been waiting for more than four months — the second-highest figure ever recorded.
And 312,665 — one in 20 patients — were forced to wait for more than a year for treatment.
Some 16,225 peoplewere waiting more than two, up from 12,491 at the end of September. The figure is around six times the 2,722 people who were waiting longer than two years in April.
NHS England has told hospitals to eliminate all waits of more than two years by March 2022.
Separate data on A&E attendances in November shows the number of patients spending more than 12 hours to be seen reached 10,646 — a 51 per cent hike on the figure last month, which was already at a record level.
And 120,749 people had to wait more than four hours to receive care. The figure is the second-highest ever recorded and only slightly fewer than last month.
The proportion of patients seen within four hours at major emergency departments remained at 61.9 per cent for the second month in a row, the lowest number since records began in 2010.
Around 2million people in England sought emergency care last month, six per cent less than October, while there were 506,238 emergency admissions, down two per cent on last month.
Meanwhile, ambulance wait times improved in November as 999 calls fell to the lowest level seen in five months.
Some 879,192 calls were made, equating to 29,000 every day, which is 10 per cent less than last month, but 11 per cent more than November 2019 and 34 per cent higher than the same month in 2020.
And the average ambulance response time to Category 2 calls, which includes stroke and other emergencies, was 46 minutes and 37 seconds, marking a drop on the 53 minutes and 54 seconds response in October.
But the wait was still much more than double the health service’s own safety target of 18 minutes.
Ambulance staff responded to nine in 10 calls within one hour, 40 minutes and 57 seconds, compared to the target time of 18 minutes.
NHS national medical director Professor Stephen Powis said: ‘These figures show that NHS staff are continuing to address the Covid backlog in the face of sustained pressure on urgent and emergency care.
‘As we head into a very challenging winter, we are working with partners in social care to get as many patients who are fit to do so home for Christmas, which is right for them and their families as well as freeing up beds.
‘There is much we do not know about Omicron but experts advise that vaccines will still help in our fight against the virus.
‘Thanks to the efforts of staff and volunteers the NHS Covid vaccination programme has delivered more than 100million jabs, so do come forward when it is your turn.’
Dr Katherine Henderson, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said: ‘This data is pre-Omicron but it reinforces the precarious position the NHS is in.
‘Even without factoring in the new variant, Plan B is very welcome, but we need to see a long-term Plan B for the whole emergency care system as this cannot go on.’
She added: ‘With one in 10 beds occupied by patients who are ready to leave, the need for better availability of social care has never been more apparent.
‘We also need to see the reinstatement of beds, along with a long-term plan to grow the staff to go with them. These crucial actions – while challenging – are long overdue and the situation is dire.’
Meanwhile, NHS data shows ambulance wait times improved in November as 999 calls fell to the lowest level seen in five months. Some 879,192 calls were made, equating to 29,000 every day (shown in graph). The figure is 10 per cent less than last month, but 11 per cent more than November 2019 and 34 per cent higher than the same month in 2020
NHS figures show the average ambulance response time in November to Category 2 calls, which include strokes and other emergencies, was 46 minutes and 37 seconds, marking a drop on the 53 minutes and 54 seconds response in October. But the wait was still more than double the health service’s own safety target of 18 minutes
It comes as officials warn the Omicron variant could overwhelm the NHS.
Mr Javid told the Commons last night that despite only 568 confirmed cases in Britain, the UK Health Security Agency estimates the real figure is around 10,000 — 20-times higher.
And cases appear to be doubling every two to three days, which would put the variant on track to cause more than a million cases by the end of the month.
One in 10 ambulance patients ‘waiting more than an hour’ for A&E handover
One in 10 patients arriving by ambulance at hospitals in England last week waited more than an hour to be handed over to A&E departments, new figures show.
Some 8,211 delays of more than 60 minutes were recorded across all acute trusts in the seven days to December 5, according to NHS England.
This was 10 per cent of the 83,903 arrivals by ambulance.
A further 11,155 patients (13 per cent) waited between 30 and 60 minutes to be handed over from ambulance teams to A&E staff.
This means nearly a quarter of all arrivals were kept waiting at least half-an-hour.
A handover delay does not always mean a patient has waited in the ambulance. They may have been moved into an A&E department, but staff were not available to complete the handover.
But the figures give a snapshot of the pressure hospitals in England are facing heading into the Christmas period.
It is the first weekly update on ambulance delays to be published this winter.
England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty told a Downing Street briefing last night: ‘That is an extraordinarily fast rate and you, therefore, can see how we could move from very small numbers to very large numbers really quite quickly.
‘That really is the reason why these measures [Plan B] have been announced by the Prime Minister as agreed by ministers today.’
Minutes released by SAGE show the scientists expect the highly-evolved strain to trigger several thousand admissions per day at a peak in January if it is allowed to spread unchecked.
They warned that there will be 1,000 admissions per day by the end of this month in England alone and ‘still increasing at that point’.
SAGE said: ‘The overall scale of any wave of hospitalisations without interventions is highly uncertain, but the peak could reach several times this level.’
The group said Omicron appears to make vaccines and prior infection ‘significantly’ weaker at stopping transmission. While scientists won’t know its true evasive abilities for several weeks, SAGE warned that even a small reduction in efficacy could trigger high waves of admissions.
Pfizer claimed in a study today that two doses of its Covid vaccine won’t prevent Omicron infections but boosters should stop ‘disease of any severity’ caused by the super-mutant. Scientists believe other vaccines — such as AstraZeneca’s — also offer some protection against the mutant strain, but studies are yet to back this up.
Early evidence suggests the mutant strain may be more mild than Delta. But scientists say this could be because it is primarily spreading in younger age groups and more people have immunity against Covid from past infection and vaccines now than when its rival struck.
There are currently 757 daily hospital admissions across the UK and 680 in England. SAGE members had previously suggested that 1,200 daily admissions would be the trigger point for more restrictions with Delta.
None of the UK’s confirmed Omicron cases has been hospitalised with the virus but it takes several weeks to fall seriously unwell after catching the virus. There are early indications from South Africa that it might cause milder illness than past variants.
Tim Gardner, senior fellow at the Health Foundation, said today’s figures show the health service was ‘already facing an exceptionally difficult winter, even before the emergence of the Omicron variant’.
He said: ‘While the NHS has little choice but to weather the storm over the coming weeks, a credible strategy for restoring normal levels of service will be vital.
‘The NHS recovery plan that has been promised needs to be realistic about the time it could take to bring waiting lists down to manageable levels.’
Plans need to be drawn up to increase NHS capacity and tackle staff shortages, as well as provide support to patients who are ‘waiting much longer than usual’ and staff who are ‘under-resourced, overstretched, and exhausted by the last two years’, he said.
And Tracey Loftis, head of policy and public affairs at Versus Arthritis, said long treatment waits for people with arthritis is having ‘a huge impact’ on their physical and mental health, while many also have to bear significant financial costs in managing their condition.
She added: ‘Latest NHS figures illustrate the scale of the challenge, and we are deeply alarmed at the increasing numbers of people waiting for over two years. Combined with increasing concerns over Omicron alongside typical winter pressures the health system remains under immense strain.
‘We urgently need to see the elective recovery plan and how it will be delivered in practice and, most importantly, when people with arthritis waiting in unbearable agony for surgery can expect to see the benefits from these plans and get the vital treatment and support they need right now.’