The new prime minster and health secretary must be “under no illusions” of the challenges facing the NHS this winter, as waiting time figures continue to grow, nurse leaders have warned.
Latest data have shown the number of patients waiting to start treatment at the end of July was a record 6.84m patients. Of those, over 377,000 has been waiting more than a year and 2,885 were waiting two years.
“The level of pressure across the whole health and care system is undeniable”
Additionally, there were 1,521,700 patients waiting for a key diagnostic test at the end of July 2022, an increase of 138,300 from the previous year.
The figures revealed the busiest summer ever for ambulance staff dealing with the most serious callouts.
Between June and August, paramedics dealt with more than 237,000 ‘category 1’ incidents – which require an immediate response to a life-threatening condition, such as cardiac or respiratory arrest – up a third on pre-pandemic levels (177,190 in 2019).
However, the data set, published today, showed that despite pressure on urgent and emergency care, both A&E performance and ambulance response times were better in August than the previous month.
Latest figures for August 2022 showed a total of 28,756 people who waited more than 12 hours in A&E from a decision to be admitted, to actual admission, compared to 29,317 in July.
Though this is still significantly higher than number of people waiting more than 12 hours a year ago (2,787).
Meanwhile, 130,528 people waited in August for up to four hours from the decision to admit to actual admission, which was a decrease from 136,221 in July.
Professor Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, said the latest figures showed that despite another Covid-19 “wave” this summer, NHS England is making “significant progress” on reducing backlogs.
He added that staff are already looking ahead for a winter that “is likely to be as challenging”, with more 999 and 111 call handlers being recruited to manage the demand.
Meanwhile, the Royal College of Nursing director for England, Patricia Marquis, said: “If clear proof were needed that the pressures facing health and care are now year-round, this is it.”
She warned of the “dangerous circle”, where delays in one part of the system impact on another, and said this was “as significant as ever”.
“Patients are being treated on trollies and in corridors and because there aren’t enough nursing staff,” Ms Marquis said.
“Lives are being put at risk: if you don’t have enough nurses, the risk of death increases.”
“The new prime minister and health secretary can be under no illusions as to the scale of the task ahead.”
The interim deputy chief executive at NHS providers, Miriam Deakin, echoed these concerns, describing how the data highlights “the range of challenges” facing the new prime minister and health and social care secretary this autumn.
“Trust leaders and staff have worked incredibly hard to deliver more tests, checks and care for patients, but the level of pressure across the whole health and care system is undeniable,” she said.
“While the improvement in both A&E performance and ambulance response times in August is testament to the hard work of staff, the pressure on urgent and emergency services – and indeed across the whole system – remains a risk and a major cause for concern.”
She added that as the NHS waits for the new government to unveil its plans to support the service this winter, it needs to see extra investment in social care, alongside the NHS “to combat the effects of rising inflation and to help meet rising demand”.
Health and social care secretary and deputy prime minister Thérèse Coffey said: “Clearly this level of performance is unacceptable, which is why I have set out our priorities will be ABCD: ambulances, backlogs, care and doctors and dentists.
“We know some of the backlog challenges will increase as people continue to present themselves for treatment. We are investing £39 billion to tackle these challenges, ensure the NHS is fully prepared for winter and fix the broken social care system.”