Michael Simmons

NHS waiting list rises above worst-case scenario

NHS waiting list rises above worst-case scenario
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The NHS crisis continues, with a set of data today showing that the extra cash invested by the Tories is not translating into progress. Those waiting 52 weeks for an operation climbed 5 per cent to 323,000. This is worse than the NHS worst-case scenario leaked to The Spectator and published on our NHS data hub. Here are some of the main points from today’s data release.

1. Those waiting more than a year for NHS hospital treatment rose by a further 17,000 to 323,000 - 5 per cent of all patients. This is already 50,000 above what had been expected had Omicron turned out to be mild (as was the case). The total number of people waiting for hospital treatment for any length of time reached 6.5 million – up 124,000 in a month in line with forecasts and on course for 9 million by the general election. Something that worries Tories seeking re-election. There was slightly better news for those suffering the longest waits: two-year waits fell by 24 per cent but still sit at nearly 13,000.

2. A&E activity is back to normal pre-pandemic volume - but the figures are being described as crisis level. Some 2.2 million people attended A&E, about where it was for most of 2019. And this is the issue: the figure is now being spoken of by the NHS as a new crisis level. The situation is as ‘challenging as any winter before the pandemic’ says Amanda Pritchard, NHS England’s chief executive. But it’s summer. And why are things so challenging, if A&E volumes are back to normal? (Or, at least, normal since GP appointments became so hard to get that people now rock up to A&E?) Health chiefs are urging patients to use NHS 111 as a first port of call. Some 853,000 emergency calls were answered too, against the busiest May since records began.

3. Progress on 12-hour waits: down from 24,000 (the record high) to 19,000. However, some 27 per cent of patients were not seen within the four-hour target either.

4. Ambulance waiting times improved slightly and the mean response for a category two ‘emergency call’ fell by ten minutes to just under 40. Category one emergency calls – where there is an ‘immediate threat to life’ – such as cardiac arrest, had an average response time of nine minutes. Around the same as the nine-minute average recorded in April. For other calls, the wait improved from 60 to 40 minutes.

5. Cancer diagnosis drifts further away from target with 71 per cent of suspected patients had cancer confirmed or ruled out within four weeks - the lowest level since January. The target (used to justify the extra funding) is a fairly unambitious 75 per cent. The 28-day cancer diagnosis target hasn’t been met for the thirteenth month running.

Perhaps the most important metric is one that will not be reported tomorrow: deaths at home. These deaths - the vast majority of which are non-Covid - have been running above the five-year average for some time (all year in fact). In the week ending 3 June they were 4 per cent above, in the same week hospital and care home deaths were some 20 per cent below average. The reasons for this may be complex: perhaps side-effects from the pandemic when (as Sajid Javid keeps pointing out) seven million NHS appointments were missed. This all adds to the picture of the effects of lockdown on the NHS and non-Covid public health.

Written byMichael Simmons

Michael Simmons is a data journalist at The Spectator

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