The number of people in England waiting to begin hospital treatment has risen to a new record high.
According to data from NHS England, a total of 4.7 million people were waiting to start treatment at the end of February 2021 – the highest figure since records began in August 2007.
The number of people waiting more than 52 weeks to start their hospital treatment stood at 387,885 in February 2021 – the highest number for any calendar month since December 2007.
A year ago, in February 2020, the number of those having to wait more than 52 weeks to start treatment stood at just 1,613.
Meanwhile, the number of people admitted for routine hospital treatment was down 47% in February compared with a year earlier.
Some 152,642 patients were admitted for treatment during the month, compared with 285,918 in February 2020.
Because 2020 was a leap year, February contained 29 days rather than the usual 28.
The year-on-year decrease recorded in January was 54%, while in December 2020 the drop was 25%.
NHS England highlighted that staff completed almost two million operations and other elective care in January and February this year, while also providing hospital treatment for nearly 140,000 coronavirus patients.
It said around two in five of all patients who have received hospital treatment for Covid-19 were admitted in the first two months of the year.
Data shows 1.9 million elective procedures or support for patients took place amid the winter surge of Covid-19 infections and there were some 2.6 million A&E visits in that period, NHS England said.
Figures also show that 174,624 urgent cancer referrals were made by GPs in February, compared with 190,369 a year before – a year-on-year drop of 8%.
This follows a year-on-year fall of 11% in January but an increase of 7% in December 2020.
Urgent referrals where breast cancer symptoms were present – though not initially suspected – were down from 13,627 in February 2020 to 12,199 in February 2021, a fall of 10%.
Meanwhile, almost 330,000 patients had been waiting more than six weeks for a key diagnostic test in February.
A total of 327,663 patients were waiting for one of 15 standard tests, including an MRI scan, non-obstetric ultrasound or gastroscopy, NHS England said.
The equivalent number waiting for more than six weeks in February last year was 29,832 and the monthly total peaked at 571,459 in May 2020.
A&E attendances at hospitals last month rose 10% year on year, but this is partly a reflection of the lower-than-usual numbers for March 2020, which were affected by the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
A total of 1.7 million attendances were recorded in March 2021, up from 1.5 million in March 2020, with the equivalent figure for March 2019, a non-pandemic year, being 2.2 million.
Emergency admissions to A&E departments also rose last month, to 503,913 from 427,968 in March 2020.
The year-on-year change will again have been affected by the lower-than-usual numbers for March 2020, and the equivalent figure for March 2019 was 555,457.
NHS England national medical director Professor Stephen Powis said: “Treating 400,000 patients with Covid-19 over the course of the last year has inevitably had an impact on the NHS, but it is a testament to the hard work and dedication of staff that they managed to deliver almost two million ops and procedures in the face of the winter wave and improve waiting times for them, along with A&E and ambulance services.”
NHS England also said February saw 22,000 people begin treatment for cancer, in line with February 2020, while the 174,000 people being referred for cancer checks was twice as many as during the peak of the first Covid-19 wave in April last year.
It added that the time taken for ambulances to reach “category one” patients, whose condition is classed as life-threatening, fell to six minutes and 47 seconds against a seven-minute target.
It said a £1 billion elective recovery fund will help trusts to restore operations and other services, with every area of the country being asked to “maximise their capacity to provide care for as many urgent and non-urgent patients as possible”.
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