There has been an 82% drop in the number of NHS patients admitted for routine operations and procedures in a year – mostly as a result of emergency measures to tackle COVID-19.
Official figures also show that 1.5 million people have forced to wait to start treatment.
Only 54,550 patients were admitted for treatment in May, compared to the 295,000 recorded this time last year.
Doctors are warning of a ticking “timebomb” that is going to resulty in pain and, in some cases, early deaths among patients who do not have COVID-19 but who can not access NHS care because the pandemic has effectively crippled capacity.
The NHS England figures show that 1.45 million patients have had to wait at least 18 weeks to start hospital treatment for routine operations such as hip and knee replacements.
That is the worst since 2007 and more than double last May, the Daily Mail reports.
Some doctors say the “timebomb” has already detonated and warn that the NHS faces an almost inconveibaly difficult task to recover to pre-pandemic performance levels.
Activity at private and independent sector hospitals has also stalled for months as capacity there has been set aside to deal with the crisis, adding to even greater pressure on the health service.
Professor Neil Mortensen, President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said: “We have been concerned since the start of this pandemic that suspending elective surgery for a period of months placed a timebomb under what was already a crisis in NHS waiting times.
“That timebomb has now detonated, with the numbers of those waiting more than a year for treatment spiralling out of control to the worst levels since September 2009.
Professor Mortensen said that the “supposed legal right” for patients to be treated within 18 weeks looks “more like a vague aspiration”, with two in five now waiting longer.
He is calling for more “COVID-light” NHS sites to be created where patients waiting for routine care can be treated safely.
He added: “The NHS cannot ever again slip back to being simply a COVID-only service” and raised a question mark over the state’s decision to help to discount eating out to protect the hospitality sector while NHS waiting figures continue to escalate.
The NHS Pandemic Crisis in Numbers
- 26,000 people have been waiting more than a year for a routine operation — 26 times higher than this time last year and the most since September 2009
- Just 62.2% of people were treated within 18 weeks in May, well below the target of 95%
- More than 500,000 patients in England have been waiting at least six weeks for a key diagnostic test – such as an MRI or gastroscopy
- Cancer waiting times hit an all-time high with fewer than half (47.9%) of diagnosed patients not starting life-saving treatments within two months