The NHS backlog of people waiting more than two years for scans, checks, surgical procedures and other routine treatments has shrunk from 22,500 patients at the beginning of the year to only 168 patients.
Commenting on the data released today, NHS England said it had ‘virtually eliminated’ the longest wait times with the number of patients waiting two or more years for routine treatments falling under 200 because of the ‘hard work and innovation’ of staff.
However, a record 6.6m people are still waiting for hospital treatment, according the most recent data, which could rise further. Of these, 300,000 people have still been waiting more than a year, often causing their conditions to become more complex and require more treatment. In addition, the latest data from the 4 August shows 1,039,729 people on national community waiting lists.
The new figure of 168 people excludes the 2,609 patients who have complex cases or opted to defer their treatment to avoid travelling. Of these, 1,579 people opted to defer their treatment rather than travel, and 1,030 cases are considered very complex.
Of the patients still waiting for over two years, the majority are in the south west of England where 160 of the 168 are still on the wait list due to a lack of capacity.
A further 51,000 who would have breached two years by the end of July have also been treated, figures show.
NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard attributed the success in cutting down wait times to innovative technology, such as robotic surgery, and ‘building new relationships and mutual aid arrangements across systems to offer patients the opportunity to be transferred elsewhere and get the care they need as quickly as possible’.
This completes the first step in the Government’s elective recovery plan, the next step of which aims to eliminate 78-week waitlists.
Health and social care secretary Steve Barclay said: ‘We are working hard with the NHS to get our health system back to peak performance, by growing the healthcare workforce, opening new community diagnostic centres and surgical hubs across the country, and investing in innovative technology to ensure patients can access the treatment they need while saving staff time.’
Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, elective care waitlists have been steadily rising as treatments were deferred in order to treat the mounting Covid cases. Hospitals in the south west of England were particularly effected by Covid-related staff absences and pressure on the health services.
Sir James Mackey, NHS England national director of elective recovery, said: ‘Reaching this milestone is testament to the hard work of NHS staff across the country, who have treated tens of thousands of the longest waits in the six months since we launched our ambitious recovery plan.
‘We knew the waiting list would initially continue to grow as more people come forward for care who may have held off during the pandemic, but the NHS is determined to make the best possible use of the additional investment to address the backlogs and provide timely, expert care to as many people as possible, and virtually eliminating two year waits shows we are continuing to make good progress for patients’.