The number of people waiting to start NHS treatment has grown to a record-breaking 6.7 million, NHS England statistics have shown.
The latest figures indicate that the waiting list grew by around 100,000 people in June, jumping from 6.6 million in May.
And of the total number of people in the backlog, around 355,774 patients were waiting more than 52 weeks.
This comes days after NHS England confirmed it had effectively met its first elective recovery target to bring the number of people waiting more than two years down from 22,500 to just 168, excluding more complex cases and people who did not want to travel.
Thinktanks and health charities have warned that the new figures will be devastating for NHS staff morale, and have called for greater central support to tackle staff shortages.
Ruth Thorlby, assistant director of policy at the Health Foundation, said the latest data will be ‘morale-sapping for staff’.
She said: ‘Reducing waiting times cannot happen while staff shortages affect every part of the system, from general practice to social care. But Boris Johnson’s would-be successors have said very little about how they will tackle the problems facing health and care services.’
She added that the new Government must outline ‘how it plans to provide sufficient funding for the NHS and social care in the short-term’ and bring forward ‘a fully funded plan to grow and support’ the workforce, or else ‘leave health and care services in a constant state of crisis’.
Richard Murray, chief executive of The King’s Fund, said: ‘The intense pressure on NHS and social care services has barely featured in the Conservative party leadership race, yet the new Prime Minister will inherit a health and care system in a state of steady crisis.
‘Not long after Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak enters 10 Downing Street, winter will really start to bite and without urgent action we can expect ambulance delays to get even longer and more and more people to be stuck waiting in over-crowded A&E departments.’
And Nuffield Trust fellow Jessica Morris warned: ‘Before the pandemic, less than 2,000 people were waiting over a year. Staffing shortages and ongoing pressure from Covid-19, and a broken and overstretched care system, continue to slow down how quickly the NHS can work through this major backlog.’
NHS England’s elective recovery plan, published in February, also set out targets to:
- Eliminate waits of over one year by March 2025
- Reduce diagnostic waiting times, with the aim of least 95% of patients receiving tests within six weeks by March 2025
- Deliver the ‘cancer faster diagnosis standard’, with at least 75% of urgent cancer referrals receiving a diagnosis within 28 days by March 2024 and return the 62-day backlog to pre-pandemic levels by March 2023
- Better ‘monitor and improve’ both waiting times and patients’ experience of waiting for first outpatient appointments over the next three years.
In May, the Government rejected MPs’ recommendation to adopt a ‘broader’ backlog recovery plan to be delivered by Integrated Care Boards (ICBs).