Tens of thousands of cancer cases have gone undiagnosed while NHS waiting lists have soared to a record high.
Some 4.46 million people in England are waiting for non-emergency surgery, the highest figure since records began in 2007.
Some 192,000 have been waiting more than a year for life-changing operations such as hip and knee replacements.
This is around a 160-fold increase since before the pandemic began in February, when just 1,163 had been waiting for a year. The NHS waiting list data goes up only until the end of November – and doctors say the total will keep rising.
Tens of thousands of people are missing cancer diagnosis due to the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Pictured: An intensive care unit (ICU) at Whiston Hospital in Merseyside
Some 192,000 have been waiting more than a year for life-changing operations such as hip and knee replacements. This is around a 160-fold increase since before the pandemic began in February
Separate figures yesterday revealed that during the first wave of the pandemic around 35,000 fewer people were diagnosed with cancer than would be expected. Experts said the delays will cost lives, allowing tumours to grow.
The data from Public Health England’s National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service shows 106,732 cases were diagnosed between April and September 2020, down from 142,324 the previous year.
It also revealed that cancer surgery has plummeted, with the number of cancer operations in August down nearly a third on 2019 levels.
Sara Bainbridge, head of policy at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: ‘This data confirms our fears that tens of thousands of people are missing a cancer diagnosis due to the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
‘Behind each statistic is a real person, many of whom may now be diagnosed with cancer at a later stage, which could affect their chances of survival.’
Sara Bainbridge, head of policy at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: ‘This data confirms our fears that tens of thousands of people are missing a cancer diagnosis due to the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic’
NHS England figures also show that at least 12,000 fewer heart operations than expected took place in England in the year to November 2020 – around one third lower than usual.
Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘The significant backlog of people needing heart treatment will keep growing as Covid-19 cases soar.
‘This may only be the tip of the iceberg as the true scale of the disruption to cardiovascular healthcare is still unknown.’
In recent weeks, hospitals have cancelled non-urgent surgery to free up space for Covid patients.
Professor Neil Mortensen, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, said: ‘For thousands of people in this country, a corrective operation is the best way to relieve debilitating pain and get them back up on their feet, back to work and enjoying life again. These are often called routine operations, but in fact they are life-changing.’
A further 48,682 cases were reported today, bringing the country’s overall pandemic total to 3,292,014 – up 1,157 on yesterday but crucially down 3,936 from last Thursday’s data
‘As the virus surges again, many elective or planned surgeries are falling over and they are going to be added to the waiting list. In addition to that, there’s a hidden waiting list of patients who have not come forward.’
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, from the British Medical Association, said: ‘The number of people who have waited for more than a year for routine treatment rose dramatically in November and is the highest level since 2008.
‘This figure will undoubtedly have risen since as NHS care has become further disrupted by skyrocketing Covid-19 hospitalisations.’
Siva Anandaciva, of the King’s Fund think-tank, said: ‘Today’s figures show that the NHS is now under the most extreme pressure seen in recent history and is battling on multiple fronts.
‘Staff are exhausted, wards are overflowing and patients face long waits for routine and emergency care, with many procedures being cancelled or postponed.’
NHS national medical director Professor Stephen Powis said: ‘There is no doubt that services will continue to be under additional pressure until and unless this virus is under control, which is why it’s so important that everyone practises social distancing and follows guidance.’
A spokesman for the NHS added: ‘Going into the most recent period of pressure for the NHS and thanks to the hard work of staff, cancer treatment and referrals were at usual levels, with more than 200,000 people referred for checks and more than 25,000 starting treatment in November.’
Warning as no intensive care beds left in a fifth of major hospitals
One in five major hospitals in England has no spare intensive care beds.
Health bosses warn the next few weeks ‘will be the most testing in NHS history’.
Amid growing fears that care for the most seriously ill may have to be rationed, all hospitals not yet at full capacity are being asked to open hundreds more intensive care beds so they can take in patients from the worst-hit areas.
Hospitals in the Midlands will be asked take ‘significant’ numbers from London and the eastern England under the plans for a ‘national critical care service’. Patients in the Midlands may then be sent to Yorkshire and the North East, to even out the burden.
The ‘intolerable strain’ of Covid-19 means life-saving organ transplants and urgent cancer surgery are being cancelled. Doctors in London say they are being forced to return severely ill patients to ambulances because there are no beds in hospitals.
Boris Johnson warned on Wednesday there was a ‘very substantial’ risk that the NHS will run out of intensive care beds.
At 27 of England’s 140 acute hospital trusts, intensive care units were 100 per cent full on January 10 – the latest date with available NHS data.
Those reporting no spare capacity include University Hospitals Birmingham, England’s largest NHS Trust, which has filled all 147 of its intensive care beds.
There are 3,307 Covid patients on ventilators in intensive care beds in England – more than double the number on Christmas Day.
The unprecedented use of ‘super-surge’ capacity will see each intensive care nurse looking after four patients, when normally it is one or two.
NHS chiefs warned the next few weeks ‘will be the most testing in NHS history’, with pressures exacerbated by staff shortages.
Nearly 100,000 are off work, including one in ten hospital nurses. Half of the absent staff either have Covid or are self-isolating.