Longest NHS waits falling despite busiest ever winter

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The COVID-19 backlogs in routine NHS treatment are being addressed, despite staff helping patients during the busiest winter ever, new figures show today.

Despite record 999 volumes and ambulance call-outs for life-threatening conditions between December and March this winter, staff ensured that the number of patients waiting over one year for treatment had fallen by 12,000 in February, with the number of people waiting over two years for care also decreasing by over 500.

While some patients need to wait for lengthy periods, today’s figures show that the NHS is progressing in its commitment to tackle two-year waits by July this year.

The NHS also delivered 200,000 more diagnostic tests in February than in the same month last year – and 600,000 more over the course of the winter, and the percentage of people waiting more than 6 weeks for a diagnostic scan or test dropped by 6% during the first two months of 2022.

Call handlers dealt with a record number of the most serious 999 calls during winter (December – March), with 304,000 category 1 calls – more than a fifth higher than any other winter period on record.

In total, the NHS answered a record 3.5 million 999 calls between December and March, while over the same timeframe, there were 5.1 million Type 1 A&E attendances, the highest number for three years.

Emergency departments remain under significant pressure with 2.17m people attending A&E in March, a spike of nearly 20% month to month and the highest March ever.

This is on top of staff dealing with 170,000 inpatients with COVID during winter, and 3.7 million days being lost due to COVID-related staff absences in the same period

Currently, there are 15,399 people in hospital with COVID – only 1,700 fewer than the Omicron peak on 10 January.

Cancer services continue to see record demand with 640,000 people being referred between December and February compared to 548,475 in the same period last year – a 17% increase.

76,634 people started treatment for cancer this winter – more than 4,000 more people that in the same period the year before.

On top of this, staff continued to roll out the fastest and largest vaccination programme in NHS history delivering almost 30 million jabs between December and March. Latest data shows the rollout has prevented almost 200,000 people from being admitted to hospital.

NHS National Medical Director Professor Stephen Powis said: 

“Nobody should be under any illusion about how tough a job NHS staff have on their hands, balancing competing priorities and maintaining high quality patient care.

“Despite pressure on various fronts and the busiest winter ever for the NHS, long waits fell as staff continue to tackle two-year waits by July thanks to the innovative approaches to care they are now adopting – from same day hip replacements to dedicated mobile hubs for operations.

“As ever, if you need help, especially over the often busy bank holiday weekend, please do come forward for the care you need through NHS 111 online and if it’s an emergency, dial 999 or go to your nearest A&E”.

Same-day hip replacements, one stop shops and mobile cataract units are just some of the ways NHS staff are helping hundreds of thousands of patients receive faster care.

In Newcastle, the Westgate Cataract Centre – a three-theatre, purpose built clinical facility – can perform up to 1,000 cataract procedures a month, which is almost double the number undertaken before the coronavirus pandemic.

The centre has been designed to ensure that patients have no waiting, meaning that each patient will spend between just 40 minutes to an hour in the unit rather than the usual time of about three hours.

While despite pressure on various fronts, the NHS has carried out an additional 230,000 vital diagnostic tests through one stop shops since the publication of the Elective Recovery Plan.

The elective recovery plan set out a blueprint for addressing COVID-19 backlogs that have inevitably built up during the pandemic as well as tackling long waits for care.

Source: NHS / Public Health England

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