Responding to the latest performance figures published by NHS England and NHS Improvement, Dr Layla McCay, director at the NHS Confederation, said: “The latest NHS England and NHS Improvement performance figures give us a clear, but grim insight into the true impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is causing a widely felt ripple effect.
“It is particularly startling that not much more than half of patients waiting for treatment had started it within 18 weeks of referral – 10 percentage points down on the previous month, and some 34 percentage points down from the same month in 2019. Also, growing numbers of patients are waiting six weeks or more for key diagnostic tests. This is no reflection on the dedication of NHS staff, who are working tirelessly to get people the care they need, but rather on the all-encompassing effects of the pandemic on patients and on health services.
“Meanwhile, A&E attendances are starting to rise again month-on-month – this is good news as it suggests more people who need urgent treatment are seeking it, but it also increases the pressure on our exhausted and overstretched staff.
“These new figures cast doubt on the Government’s ambition to restart normal services by the autumn. As the pandemic continues, we are on a collision course with an extremely difficult winter, with major backlogs of treatment, alongside reduced capacity due to factors like increased infection control, combined with the usual pressures, and the added unknowns such as the likely rates of COVID-19 transmission, and the long-term effects of the virus on patients. The NHS needs patience from both the Government and the public as it tries to get back on its feet, as well as improvements in measures to curb the spread of the virus such as the test and trace programme.”