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Hospital waiting lists top five million people for the first time

Labour and health unions accuse Tory ministers of failing the NHS

TORY ministers are failing the NHS, Labour and health unions said yesterday, as the number of people on hospital waiting lists topped five million for the first time.

NHS England data reveals that 5.12 million people were waiting for treatment at the end of April, the highest number since records began in 2007, as the health service buckles under the pressure of a decade of austerity and the Covid-19 pandemic.

The figures also show that 385,490 people had been waiting a year for treatment in April, about 35 times the amount for the same month in 2020.

In a sign that demand for non-coronavirus related care was high, the data confirms that GPs in England made 209,452 urgent cancer referrals in April, more than double the number in April 2020. The equivalent pre-pandemic figure for the same month in 2019 was 199,217.

Urgent referrals where breast cancer symptoms were present — though not initially suspected — were up from 3,866 in April 2020 to 14,259 in the same month this year. 

NHS England national medical director Professor Stephen Powis said that the figures demonstrated the NHS was “rebounding sharply,” but Labour demanded the government publish an urgent NHS rescue plan. 

Shadow health and social care secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “The reality is years of Tory underfunding and cuts left our NHS weakened and exposed entering the pandemic with patients now left waiting even longer in pain and anxiety.”

After the government’s offer of a below-inflation NHS pay rise of just 1 per cent earlier this year, Unison head of health Sara Gorton warned that staffing issues would hit patients. 

“[Patients] are facing years of discomfort waiting for the sort of complex diagnoses, treatment and surgery ​that can only be done by the NHS,” she said.

“That’s why it’s so important to support and retain the existing workforce, many of whom are burnt out and ​completely demoralised.

“A proper pay rise is a priority in stopping the exodus of staff and recruiting more people into the NHS.”

GMB national officer Rachel Harrison said: “Our NHS is broken. [After] a decade of underfunding, our health service wasn’t prepared for Covid-19. 

“And yet there is still no credible plan for addressing the staffing crisis or restoring a decade of real-terms pay cuts.

“Staff and patients are being consistently failed by this government.”

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