NHS cuts 18-month waits as staff contend with busiest October ever

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NHS national medical director, Professor Stephen Powis. Picture by Pippa Fowles / No 10 Downing Street.

The NHS has slashed the number of people waiting 18 months for treatment by almost 60% in one year as the health service continues to prioritise the elective recovery.

The number of patients waiting 78 weeks was reduced by 73,430 from 123,969 compared to September 2021 as staff clamp down on the longest waits.

It follows the second most productive September on record – with more than 1.3 million non-emergency patients treated in hospital.

Staff also faced the busiest October ever for A&E attendances and most serious ambulance callouts.

More than 2.17 million patients turned up to emergency departments around England last month while ambulance services responded to 83,986 life-saving incidents.

It comes despite hospitals also admitting nearly 1,000 Covid inpatients daily in October – a third higher than the previous year – and an early outbreak of flu.

At the same time hospitals continue to contend with more patients coming in than going out, with less than half of fit patients discharged on time last month.

More than 13,000 patients spent more time in hospital than needed every single day – the equivalent of around one in 10 beds over the whole month.

Staff continue to work flat out to eliminate the longest waits for treatment while also contending with record demand and delivering as many as half a million Covid boosters and flu jabs a day over the last couple of months.

More than 13 million have had a Covid top-up while around 14 million have had a flu jab.

NHS Medical Director Professor Sir Stephen Powis said:

“There is no doubt October has been a challenging month for staff who are now facing a tripledemic of Covid, flu and record pressure on emergency services with more people attending A&E or requiring the most urgent ambulance callout than any other October.

“Pressure on emergency services remains high as a result of more than 13,000 beds taken up each day by people who no longer need to be in hospital.

“But staff have kept their foot on the accelerator to get the backlog down with 18-month waiters down by three-fifths on last year.

“We have always said the overall waiting list would rise as more patients come forward, and with pressures on staff set to increase over the winter months, the NHS has a plan – including a new falls service, 24/7 war rooms and extra beds and call handlers.

“The public can continue to play their part by getting their jabs and using NHS services in the usual way by calling 999 in an emergency and using 111 online for other health issues.”

NHS data published today also shows the number of urgent cancer referrals by GPs is up 11% for the 12 months ending in September, compared with the previous year, as 2,791,456 patients were referred to see a consultant.

It comes as NHS analysis published yesterday showed the NHS is diagnosing more patients with cancer at an earlier stage than ever before.

Last year, over 100,000 (100,461) patients were diagnosed with cancer at stages one or two when it is easier to treat – the highest proportion on record.

The NHS’s 111 service also took 1.3 million calls during September, an average of almost 50,000 per day and in nearly half of the calls answered, the patient spoke with a clinician or clinical advisor.

Anyone needing healthcare advice is asked to use NHS 111 online in the first instance and call 999 in an emergency as usual.

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