Almost 200,000 patients in England are now waiting a year for routine NHS operations, according to the latest data.
By the end of November a total of 192,169 patients were waiting more than 52 weeks for treatment with the total NHS waiting list now at more than 4.5 million patients, the highest since records began.
In February 2019, the number of patients waiting over a year was just 1,163. The numbers have ballooned because of the widespread cancellations by hospitals during the first and second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
With hospitals seeing increased numbers of critical care patients with the virus hospitals were forced to use operating theatres as makeshift intensive care units and redeploy staff to other areas.
The number of long waiters will now likely be considerably higher than 200,000 as many hospitals have been hit hard by the virus since November.
Only 68 per cent of patients were waiting up to 18 weeks for treatment, meaning the NHS missed its target for 92 per cent of patients to be referred and treated within 18 weeks.
The total number of people admitted for routine treatment in hospitals in England was down 27 per cent in November, compared with the same month in 2019.
Some 222,810 patients were admitted for treatment during the month, down from 303,193 a year before.
The year-on-year decrease recorded in September and October was also 27 per cent, while in August the drop was 43 per cent.
Separately, NHS performance data shows more than 5,000 patients waited longer than an hour to be handed over from ambulance teams to A&E staff at hospitals in England in the week to January 10.
There were a total of 5,513 delays of over 60 minutes recorded across all NHS hospital trusts, the highest weekly figure so far this winter.
University Hospitals Birmingham Trust reported the highest number for an individual trust in the week to January 10 with 291 delays of more than 60 minutes, followed by Portsmouth Hospitals University Trust at 254 and the Royal Wolverhampton Trust with 180.
Professor Neil Mortensen, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said: “Today’s figures show the calamitous impact of Covid-19 on wait times for operations.
“In November, a record number of patients were waiting for hospital treatment. For thousands of people in this country a corrective operation is the best way to relieve debilitating pain and get them back up on their feet, back to work and enjoying life again.
“Many of us were complaining about the pain of the lockdown restrictions in November. However, we should remember all those people waiting for an operation who had their physical pain to deal with, on top of the pain of lockdown.
“A huge, hidden waiting list is building up under lockdown. When we eventually emerge from this crisis, we will need sustained investment to treat all those who have been waiting patiently for treatment.”
NHS England said half a million more people went to their local A&E in December with the overall median wait for operations falling to just over 10 weeks
Half a million more people sought help in England’s A&Es in December compared with the first peak of the pandemic in April, according to new data from the NHS, which show essential services were being maintained at the end of the year.
Professor Stephen Powis, NHS England medical director, said: “Despite 2020 being the year of Covid, nearly 20 million people received emergency care in England’s A&Es, while in November alone as Covid-19 was spreading more rapidly, patients still benefited from four million important elective treatments and essential checks on the NHS.
“Hardworking staff have ensured that the waiting list is lower than it was at the same point last year with the average waiting time for treatment improving compared to the previous month.”
He added: “These figures are a stark reminder that the NHS is facing an exceptionally tough challenge, and that while still millions of people are getting care for non-covid health problems in the NHS in England – indeed for every covid patient in hospital, the NHS is treating three people for other conditions – there is no doubt that services will continue to be under additional pressure until and unless this virus is under control, which is why it’s so important that everyone practises social distancing and follows national guidance.”