NHS England say the number of people waiting two years or more for treatment has been drastically reduced as part of its plan to tackle delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
However, waiting times of more than two years were so rare that the NHS didn’t start publishing statistics for them until April 2021, explains our senior data journalist, Daniel Dunford, below.
And 200 times more people are now waiting a year for treatment compared to before the pandemic — from 1,613 in February 2020 to more than 330,000 in May.
The health service provided an update, saying the first part of its elective recovery plan involved patients “waiting two years or more at the end of July”.
They needed “scans, checkups, surgical procedures and other routine treatments.”
They were all prioritized unless they “chose to wait longer” or “didn’t want to travel to be seen sooner”.
There was also another category of “highly complex cases requiring specialist treatment”.
The NHS said there were more than 22,500 people at the start of the year who had waited two years or more.
In addition, “another 51,000 people were treated who would have exceeded two years by the end of July”.
The list has now been reduced to “just 2,777, despite COVID and other pressures, 1,579 of whom chose to delay treatment and 1,030 are highly complex cases,” according to the NHS.
The next phase will focus on those who have been waiting for more than 18 months, said Amanda Pritchard, CEO of NHS England.
Progress is being made, she noted, using “innovative techniques and breakthrough technology such as robotic surgery.”
The health service has “established mutual aid arrangements in different systems to allow patients to be transferred elsewhere,” Ms Pritchard said.
Health Secretary Steve Barclay said “new community diagnostic centers and surgical hubs” are opening across the country.
ONE YEAR WAIT 200 TIMES HIGHER THAN PRE-PANDEMIC
It’s been a long time since NHS England could give us good news, so it’s nice to hear it’s close to the first goal it’s set itself to clear the COVID backlog.
It’s worth putting that achievement in context, though. Wait times of more than two years used to be so rare that the NHS didn’t start publishing statistics until April 2021.
The focus for the “longest wait times” used to be those longer than a year, and looking at the latest published figures for that, up to the end of May, shows how much work still needs to be done.
Two hundred times more people wait a year for treatment compared to before the pandemic – from 1,613 in February 2020 to more than 330,000 in May.
NHS England have made good progress on the first of many goals involved in clearing the COVID backlog, but it’s hard to underestimate how far the goalposts are from where they were before the pandemic started.
Read more: How the pandemic caused the waiting list
Sky News will continue to analyze the health of the health service with our NHS tracker, where you can see the latest figures on free beds and waiting times for your local trust. The next update, with waiting list data for June and A&E and ambulance figures for July, will take place on Thursday morning.