More than 1,000 patients had been waiting more than a year for routine treatment at North Cumbria Integrated Care Trust at the end of August, new figures reveal.
The King’s Fund think tank says there is a “mountain to climb” to tackle delays caused by COVID-19, after NHS data showed more than 100,000 people across England had been waiting at least a year for non-urgent care – the most for more than a decade.
NHS statistics show 1,277 patients had been on the waiting list for 52 weeks or more for elective operations or treatment at North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust at the end of August.
According to NHS rules, patients referred for non-urgent consultant-led elective care should start treatment within 18 weeks.
Comparable local figures were unavailable for previous years, but across England, the number of people waiting a year or more hit 111,000, a near tenfold increase from 1,236 in August 2019 and the highest figure since 2008.
Siva Anandaciva, chief analyst at The King’s Fund, said: “NHS staff are working hard to restore services and find innovative new ways to care for patients, but as these figures show, there is a mountain to climb before waits for routine NHS care return to pre-pandemic levels.
“It now seems unlikely that the highly ambitious targets set for the recovery of NHS performance over autumn will be met, and it is important to be honest with patients and the public about how long people are likely to have to wait for care.”
A combination of the huge treatment backlog, rising COVID-19 hospital admissions, an expected winter surge in demand on services and exhausted and overstretched staff means NHS leaders are “braced for a torrid winter”, he added.
“Much will therefore depend on whether the Government can deliver increased capacity and improvements to the testing system to enable NHS and social care staff to be regularly tested for COVID.”
Of the 23,781 patients waiting for treatment at North Cumbria Integrated Care Trust at the end of August, 51 per cent had been doing so for more than the 18-week window.
NHS trusts are expected to make sure no more than eight per cent of patients are left waiting beyond the 18-week maximum target.
Nationally, 46 per cent of the 4.2 million people waiting at the end of the month has overshot the target time, although this an improvement on 53 per cent in July.
An NHS spokesman said: “Hospitals are carrying out more than a million routine appointments and operations per week, with around three times the levels of elective patients admitted to hospital than in April, as they continue to make progress on getting services back to pre-COVID levels including scanning services which are delivering millions of urgent checks and tests.
“It is obviously vital for patients that this progress continues, and isn’t jeopardised by a second wave of COVID infections spiralling out of control.”