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NHS operation waiting lists reach 10-year high at 4.3m patients

The number of patients waiting for an operation on the NHS has reached 4.3 million, the highest total for 10 years, official figures show.

Growing numbers are having to wait more than the supposed maximum of 18 weeks for planned non-urgent surgery such as a cataract removal or hip or knee replacement.

In May, for example, 211,434 patients had been on the waiting list for more than six months, up from the 197,067 who were in that position a month before and up by almost half compared to a year earlier, the NHS England data shows.

Hospitals managed to treat 88.1% of people on the referral to treatment (RTT) waiting list within 18 weeks, well below the 92% who are meant to have surgery within that time. The NHS has not met the 92% target since February 2016 amid fast-growing demand for care.

NHS England said 4.3 million people were on the RTT list in May, up 100,000 on the previous month.

Labour and health trade unions warned Matt Hancock, who replaced Jeremy Hunt as the health and social care secretary this week, that the NHS’s ability to get back to meeting key performance targets on waiting times would define his time in the post.

Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said: “4.3 million patients on the waiting list and over 200,000 waiting over six months exposes an NHS that has been pushed to the brink. Behind every statistic is a real person whose life is on hold waiting longer and longer in pain, distress and anxiety for treatment. [Hancock’s] test is to rapidly bring these waiting lists down.”

Dr Kathy McLean, NHS Improvement’s medical director, said A&E performance in May and June was 90.7%, the same as a year earlier. In addition, 139,204 hospital bed days – the lowest number since April 2015 – were lost due to delayed transfers of care, where patients who are fit to leave are stuck in hospital, often because social care is unavailable. More

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