The overall waiting list for hospital treatment in England has topped 7.5 million for the first time.
Latest referral to treatment waiting times published by NHS England showed an estimated 7.57 million patients waiting to begin treatment at the end of June – up from 7.47 million in May. In June last year, the waiting list stood at 6.79 million.
However, the number of people waiting longer than 52 weeks to start routine hospital treatment fell slightly at the end of June to an estimated 383,083, compared with 385,022 in the previous month.
The numbers waiting more than 78 weeks (18 months) fell from an estimated 11,446 in May to 7177 in June, the figures showed.
Travel for Treatment Scheme
The latest statistics coincided with an announcement by NHS England of a new online tool that could see patients who need treatment being sent to hospitals in other parts of the country with available surgery slots.
The platform would enable clinical teams to upload details of patients on their waiting list who are willing to travel for treatment. Other NHS and independent sector providers would be able to log on and "match" patients up to treatment.
The system was initially introduced for people needing hospital admission, but would be expanded to include cancer, diagnostic checks, and outpatient appointments. Health chiefs described the online portal as a "key tool" in efforts to "virtually eliminate 65 week waits by April 2024".
The latest estimates showed the number of patients in England waiting more than 65 weeks to start treatment rose at the end of June to stand at 97,275 – up from 96,801 in May.
Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of NHS England, said: "Despite significant pressure on services, NHS staff have already made incredible progress against our elective recovery plan, and this smart new tool will help us to continue to reduce long waits for patients."
"Perfect Storm" of Squeezed Funding, Staff Shortages, and Strikes
Responding to the latest overall waiting list figure, Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers , said it was the result of a "perfect storm" of squeezed NHS funding, the pandemic, the cost-of-living crisis, workforce shortages, and industrial action by healthcare workers. She urged the Government and unions to find a resolution to the pay dispute without delay.
Professor Philip Banfield, British Medical Association (BMA) council chair, commented: "While the Prime Minister and his colleagues like to call this the 'COVID backlog' and furthermore to blame striking healthcare staff, the Government was presiding over this problem long before any industrial action. "
Publication of the latest NHS England data came hours before junior doctors in England began a 4-day walkout from 7am today in their continuing dispute over pay.