The number of people in England waiting to start routine hospital treatment has risen to yet another a record high.
A total of 7.1 million people were waiting to start treatment at the end of September, according to figures from NHS England. This is up from the seven million recorded in August and is the highest figure since records began in August 2007.
The worry for occupational health practitioners is the knock-on mental and physical health impact this will have on those of working age who are off work, stuck on a list and waiting for diagnosis or treatment.
The Office for National Statistics has already warned that rising numbers of over-50s falling out of the workplace can in part be blamed on long NHS waiting lists leading to increased worklessness, with long Covid another factor in this.
A total of 401,537 people in England had been waiting more than 52 weeks to start hospital treatment at the end of September, NHS England said.
This is up from 387,257 at the end of August and is the equivalent of approximately one in 18 people on the entire waiting list.
However, NHS England also highlighted that the number of people waiting 18 months for treatment has been slashed by almost 60% in one year. The number of patients waiting 78 weeks was reduced by 73,430 from 123,969 compared to September 2021, it added.
The government and NHS England have set an ambition of eliminating all waits of more than a year by March 2025. However, the unprecedented national strike by NHS nurses announced by the Royal College of Nursing this week is likely, if anything, to put the NHS under even greater pressure.
One area of growing concern is the sharp rise in long waits for cancer therapy that has been seen in the past four years.
An analysis by the BBC has concluded the number of people waiting more than the 62-day target time for therapy in the past year has topped 69,000 across England, Northern Ireland and Scotland – twice as many as the same period in 2017-18. Waits are also getting worse in Wales, but data does not go that far back, the BBC said.
Separately, according to the latest cancer waiting times data for England, for September 2022, more than one in four people with suspected cancer (27.4%) had to wait more than two weeks to be seen, equating to almost 70,000 people. This, again, is a record high.
Steven McIntosh, executive director of advocacy and communications at Macmillan Cancer Support, said of the September figures: “It’s appalling that September saw yet another record high for the number of people forced to wait too long for a cancer diagnosis.
“Despite the very best efforts of NHS staff, delays to diagnosis and treatment can be incredibly traumatic for people living with cancer, causing huge amounts of anxiety and potentially impacting their chances of survival.
“The government must urgently address the gravity of the challenges facing cancer care and use the Autumn Statement to increase funding for services, at least in line with inflation. Failure to do so will mean a real terms funding cut, resulting in further delays and disruption. People living with cancer and NHS staff won’t forgive any government failing to tackle the chronic staff shortages in cancer care,” McIntosh added.