The Nuffield Trust think tank said thousands of patients on the waiting list across England were suffering from pain, while NHS staff were still struggling with the burnout of the past two years.
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Figures from NHS England show the median wait time for non-emergency elective operations or treatment at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust was 11 weeks at the end of January – the same wait as in December.
This was more than the average wait of 10 weeks a year ago.
There were 77,578 patients on the waiting list in January, compared to 75,638 in December and 56,488 in January 2021.
Of these, 3,124 had been waiting for more than two years.
Nationally, 6.1 million people were waiting to start treatment at the end of January.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid recently announced NHS reforms, which include paying patients who wait the longest to travel to less busy hospitals or private facilities.
But Siva Anandaciva, chief analyst at the King’s Fund health think tank, said those promises “will be hollow if hospitals across England continue to flash red”.
He added: “Staff shortages remain the limiting factor to the government’s ambition to reduce the backlog.
“Without a fully funded workforce plan, key targets will continue to be missed and people will continue to wait longer for the care they need.”
Separate figures show that 1.5million patients in England were waiting for a key diagnostic test in January – an increase from 1.4million in December.
At Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust, 17,986 patients were awaiting one of 15 standard tests, such as an MRI, non-obstetric ultrasound or gastroscopy at the time.
Among them, 6,206 (35%) had been waiting for at least six weeks.
The Nuffield Trust said the latest national figures on the state of the NHS are “sobering reading”, particularly amid a rise in hospital admissions for Covid-19.
Sarah Scobie, deputy director of research at the think tank, said: ‘Behind all these numbers are thousands of individual stories of pain and suffering, against the backdrop of exhausted and overworked healthcare workers.
“The question for the government is to what extent the proposed reforms will actually affect the parties in the face of such long and increasing waiting times.
“A new wave of the virus just as health and social care services struggle to get back on their feet could be perilous to any hope of recovery.”
Other figures show cancer patients at the Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust are not being seen quickly enough.
The NHS says 85% of cancer patients referred urgently by a GP should start treatment within 62 days.
But data from NHS England shows that only 30% of patients received cancer treatment within two months of an urgent referral to Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust in January.
That was down from 45% in December and 59% in January 2021 last year.
The Department of Health and Social Care has said its plan to tackle the Covid-19 backlog is being backed by multi-billion pound investment over the next three years, and it will also publish a ten-year plan on cancer.
A spokeswoman added: “We will provide new surgical centers and at least 100 community diagnostic centers to help patients get the surgery they need and faster access to tests – including for cancer – offering nine million additional tests, checks and procedures by 2025.”
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