Responding to NHS England’s monthly performance statistics, Tim Gardner, Senior Policy Fellow at the Health Foundation, said:
‘The NHS is heading into a winter like no other as it works to care for patients with COVID-19, maintain routine services to tackle the backlog of unmet need and manage the seasonal surge in emergency pressures. Routine hospital services have been steadily returning to pre-pandemic levels, but today’s figures suggest this progress may have stalled in the face of the rise in patients hospitalised with COVID-19 during the second wave.
‘The number of people referred into and starting treatment by cancer services in October remained close to 2019 levels. However, 162,888 patients waiting for routine hospital treatment have now waited longer than 52 weeks, compared to just 1,321 this time last year, as the number of people starting treatment is 25% lower than the same month in 2019. Although visits to A&E departments in November were 31% below the same month last year, 16.2% of patients waited longer than the four-hour target and there was an increase in the number who waited over four hours for a bed to become available. This highlights the pressures on hospital capacity, which are far higher than a typical winter due to the infection prevention and control measures needed to protect patients and staff from exposure to COVID-19.
‘The first patients being vaccinated against COVID-19 this week is a hugely important and positive milestone, but this is likely to have little impact on the demand that the NHS faces now and over winter. While the government’s spending review promised additional funding, this will still leave health services short-changed by around £6bn in terms of the resources needed to maintain infection control measures during an exceptionally challenging winter.’
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