More than 162,000 patients have now waited more than a year for routine hospital treatment, monthly NHS performance statistics show.
The BMA said the figures were alarming and showed the huge challenge ahead for the NHS.
In an analysis of the figures, the Health Foundation said progress made in returning to pre-pandemic levels of activity may have stalled as the NHS tackles the second wave of coronavirus and the usual winter pressures.
Figures on referral to treatment waiting times in England show that in October there were 162,888 patients who had waited more than 52 weeks – 3.7% of the total.
This figure has been steadily rising since April when there were 11,042 patients who had waited more than a year – just 0.3% of the total.
The overall numbers on the waiting list had increased between April and October 2020 from 3.94 million to 4.44 million, the data shows.
But the number of people referred into and starting treatment by cancer services in October remained close to 2019 levels, the Health Foundation pointed out.
Tim Gardner, Senior Policy Fellow at the Health Foundation, said: ‘The NHS is heading into a winter like no other as it works to care for patients with Covid-19, maintain routine services to tackle the backlog of unmet need and manage the seasonal surge in emergency pressures.
‘Routine hospital services have been steadily returning to pre-pandemic levels, but today’s figures suggest this progress may have stalled in the face of the rise in patients hospitalised with Covid-19 during the second wave.’
BMA council deputy chair Dr David Wrigley said: ‘The latest set of NHS performance stats highlights the huge challenge that lies ahead in trying to clear the enormous backlog of care and bringing down the waiting lists, which have been significantly exacerbated by the pandemic.
‘It is quite frankly alarming that the number of patients waiting more than a year for care is now 123 times higher than last October – the highest since May 2008. These are patients in pain, distress and needing treatment.’
He called for the Government to urgently commit to a much stronger package of support for the NHS to have ‘any chance of recovering from this pandemic’.
An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘Over the summer some predicted that waiting lists would hit 10 million by Christmas, but thanks to the work of NHS staff, the waiting list is still lower than it was this time last year, and median waits for planned care shortened over the past month.
‘Although Covid hospitalisations almost doubled during November, for every Covid inpatient the NHS treated, hospitals managed to treat five other inpatients for other health conditions.
‘With cancer referrals and treatments now back above usual levels, our message remains that people should continue to come forward for care when they need it.’
This story first appeared on our sister publication, Pulse.