Health

One in NINE people in England now on NHS waiting list amid Omicron wave

One in nine people in England were on the NHS waiting list for routine operations by the end of November and record numbers of patients had to wait more than 12 hours to be seen in A&E last month, official figures show.

Experts warned the ‘shocking data’ laid bare the wider impact of Omicron on the health service and highlighted that many patients were being ‘let down’ by the deepening crisis in the NHS.

Data published by NHS England today showed a record 6million people were stuck on NHS waiting lists for elective care by the end of November, just as the ultra-transmissible variant began to take off.

More than 300,000 patients had waited over a year – often in pain – for ops such as hip and knee replacements or cataracts surgery. Of them, 18,500 had queued for two or more years.

Meanwhile, a total of 12,986 spent 12 or more hours in emergency departments before being treated in December — the most since records began in 2010 and up by a fifth from November. 

At the same time, just 73 per cent of A&E patients were seen within the NHS’ four-hour target, the lowest percentage ever.  Separate data shows heart attack patients waited 53 minutes on average for an ambulance to respond to their 999 call. 

Dr Tim Cooksley, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said the latest data revealed an ‘increasingly serious situation.’

He added: ‘Here we are another month on with a further shocking set of data which highlights how so many patients are being let down as well as the strain our exhausted staff are under.

‘Behind every data point is a person and we can’t allow anyone to forget that. There are also amazing staff on the ground who continue to provide the best care they care in the most challenging of circumstances and seeing this data is demoralising for us all.

‘We need to focus on why performance has continued to fall and struggle for years and build the solutions to drive improvement in both the short and long term. This is an increasingly serious situation.’ 

The NHS was already in crisis mode before Omicron took off, with staffing shortages, pandemic backlogs and winter pressures all putting strain on the health service. 

But the arrival of the new variant triggered record staff absences, with one in 10 NHS workers off at once over the Christmas break. Dozens of trusts declared ‘critical incidents’, indicating that they could no longer provide vital care. 

Wes Streeting MP, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, said: ‘Our health service went into this wave of Covid infections with 6 million people on waiting lists for the first time ever. 

‘Thanks to a decade of Tory mismanagement, the NHS was unprepared for the pandemic and didn’t have any spare capacity when Omicron hit.

‘It’s not just that the Conservatives didn’t fix the roof when the sun was shining, they dismantled the roof and removed the floorboards. 

‘Now patients are paying the price, waiting months and even years for treatment, often in pain, distress and discomfort.

‘Labour will secure the future of the NHS, starting by building the workforce it needs to deliver better care and shorter waiting times, just as the last Labour government did.’

But in a promising sign, NHS hospital staff absences due to Covid have fallen week-on-week across most of the regions of England.

The largest percentage drop was in London, where 4,167 hospital staff were ill with coronavirus or having to self-isolate on January 9, down 13 per cent on the previous week (4,765) but still more than three times the number at the start of December (1,174).

Eastern England fell 10 per ecnt week-on week from 3,320 on January 2 to 2,984 on January 9, the South East was also down 10 per cent to 3,590, the North East and Yorkshire fell by 8% to 8,125 while South West England dropped by 1 per cent to 2,974.

Hospital staff absences due to Covid rose by 20 per cent week-on-week in the Midlands from 7,931 on January 2 to 9,484 on January 9, but there has been a drop each day from a peak of 10,690 on January 6.

There is a similar picture in the North West, up 19 per cent week-on-week from 7,338 to 8,707 on January 9, but with numbers falling each day from a peak of 10,370 on January 5.

In total there were 80,000 NHS staff at hospital trusts in England who were absent for all sickness reasons on January 9 including self-isolation, down 2 per cent on the previous week. Half of these were absent for Covid-19 reasons. 

But the data shows that hospital staff absences due to Covid have dropped every day since reaching a peak of about 50,000 on January 5. The total includes staff who were ill with coronavirus or who were having to self-isolate.


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