NHS waiting list in England rises to record 7.7m

picture of operating theatreImage source, Getty Images

By Nick Triggle

Health correspondent

A record 7.68 million people are on a hospital waiting list in England, figures show.

The total at the end of July represents nearly one in seven people and is a jump of more than 100,000 in a month.

The rising number means the prime minister’s pledge to bring down waiting lists is under threat. The government has blamed strikes for adding to the pressures facing the NHS.

It comes as ministers have announced an extra £200m for the NHS this winter.

It is on top of a £250m boost already announced earlier in the summer, which is helping pay for 5,000 extra hospital beds and 10,000 virtual beds where patients are supported at home by doctors for conditions such as respiratory and heart problems that would normally lead to a hospital admission.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay said he wanted to see “high impact” interventions to help the NHS get through winter.

On the waiting list, which covers people needing routine treatments such as knee and hip operations, he said the strikes were having an impact, driving up the numbers and “harming” patients.

But Mr Barclay pointed out progress had been made, as the long waits of over 18 months were close to being eliminated.

However, those waiting over 12 months are climbing.

Are strikes to blame?

The waiting list had been creeping up in the decade before the pandemic.

When Covid hit, the numbers rose by nearly three million in just over two years.

But during last winter, that rise appeared to have plateaued.

For six months from September, the total on the waiting list changed little.

Modelling had suggested this was likely to last a year, before the total number started falling.

But the data in March showed the numbers rising again – and this has continued.

March was the month doctors’ strikes began – and they are the most disruptive.

Overall, close to a million appointments and treatments have had to be postponed since industrial action began in the NHS in December.

Are doctors still striking?

Next week will see junior doctors and consultants in England walk out at the same time for the first time in the history of the NHS.

Consultants will take strike action on Tuesday and Wednesday, while junior doctors start their three-day walkout on Wednesday.

Emergency care will be staffed throughout.

Both groups are planning more strikes next month.

Pay talks have stalled and ministers are calling this year’s rise – consultants will receive 6% extra and junior doctors nearly 9% – a “fair and final” settlement.

BMA leader Prof Philip Banfield said: “If the health secretary really wants to support the NHS then his next step should be to re-open talks with doctors and come to the table with a credible offer to put an end to strikes and to demonstrate he does really care about our patients.”

Louise Ansari, head of patient watchdog Healthwatch England, said she feared long waits for care were “inevitable” for some time to come.

“With demand for care likely to rise this winter, people need to have confidence in NHS services,” she said.

“However, our research shows that people’s confidence in accessing timely care now is lower than it was at the start of the year.”

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