WAITING lists across the NHS have reached the highest levels since records began due to the coronavirus pandemic.
New figures from NHS England revealed that the number of people waiting longer than 18 weeks for routine hospital treatment in England is at its highest ever.
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In June this number rose to more than 1.86 million, topping the record of 1.79 million that was recorded in August 2007.
In March this year, many services in the NHS were disrupted due to Covid-19 as resources had to be deployed elsewhere to help fight the virus.
As well as this surgeries were cancelled and many people felt unable to attend their GP surgery due to the risks posed by the virus.
The June figures, which have been slammed as “scandalous” by doctors, show more than half a million patients in England had been waiting more than six weeks for a key diagnostic test after being referred by a GP.
A total of 540,593 patients were waiting for one of 15 standard tests, including an MRI scan, non-obstetric ultrasound or gastroscopy.
The equivalent number in June 2019 was 40,099.
The data also revealed that urgent cancel referrals dropped by a fifth compared to last year – rising to 43 per cent for breast cancer.
Experts have previously warned that cancer patients were being left behind because of the pandemic.
A total of 153,134 urgent cancer referrals were made by GPs in England in June, down from 194,047 in June last year – a drop of 21 percent.
Urgent breast cancer referrals decreased from 14,885 to 8,495.
Head of policy and influence at Macmillan Cancer Support, Sarah Bainbridge said the figures were “worryingly low”.
She said: "This could directly impact on many of these people's chances of survival.
"To ensure services are able to catch up we need the Government to deliver the recovery plan promised and continue to address the scale of the challenge by securing more staffing and resources."
Performance remains poor and concerning and, with what we know will be a challenging winter ahead, it will take more than a token cash injection
She said people with cancer symptoms should contact their GP to limit the “impacts of delays in diagnosis”.
The data showed that the number of people waiting more than 52 weeks to start hospital treatment rose to 50,536, up from 1,089 in June last year, and the highest number for any calendar month since February 2009.
Records for June show that just 52 per cent of people were seen within 18 weeks, against a target of 92 per cent.
The number of patients admitted for routine treatment in hospitals in England was down 67 per cent compared with a year ago.
During June a total of 94,354 patients were admitted, down from 289,203 for the same time last year.
Some trusts were unable to submit data and NHS England said that it had factored in estimates for these trusts.
It added that the total number of patients waiting to start treatment at the end of June may have been close to four million.
Dr Nick Scriven, immediate past president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said: "These are worrying times for the NHS given the threat of a second wave of Covid-19 in addition to all of the other pre-existing issues such as bed capacity, staffing, funding and social care provision.
"Performance remains poor and concerning and, with what we know will be a challenging winter ahead, it will take more than a token cash injection announced by the Prime Minister this week to make up for years of neglect."
Earlier this week Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that trusts across England would receive £300 million in a push to upgrade facilities.
He said the additional funds would help hospitals prepare for the winter months and will help them maintain services.
Last month he announced £3billion boost for the health service.
Looking at other health care settings and the data also revealed that A&E attendances were down 30 per cent.
The NHS stated that this was likely due to the Covid-19 response and the fact that people were staying away because of the virus.
In July almost 1.6 million people attended A&E, down from 2.3 million the year before.
In England emergency admissions were also down 15 per cent from 554,069 to 472,646.
Dr Scriven described the figures for diagnostics test as "scandalous".
He said: "We are particularly worried by the ongoing crisis in accessing diagnostic tests with the total number of patients waiting six weeks or more from referral for one of the 15 key tests at 540,600 – 47.8 per cent of the total number of patients waiting – which, given the target is 1 per cent, is scandalous."
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