Record number of patients waiting a year for treatment at Milton Keynes Hospital as Coronavirus 'sets NHS back years'
A record number of patients had been waiting a year or more for routine treatment at Milton Keynes University Hospital Trust in February, figures reveal.
The Nuffield Trust said the record size of the NHS waiting list across England shows the health service has been set back years by the coronavirus pandemic and now faces a "major backlog".
NHS rules state that patients referred for non-urgent consultant-led elective care should start treatment within 18 weeks.
But NHS statistics show 773 patients listed for elective operations or treatment at Milton Keynes University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust at the end of February had been waiting for at least a year – 3% of all those on the waiting list.
This was a huge increase from one the year before, and the highest figure for the month of February since comparable records began in 2012.
The number of people waiting this long across England has risen to 387,900 – the highest total since December 2007, and almost 250 times that of February 2020.
Emma Livesley, director of operations at Milton Keynes University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust addressed the Milton Keynes specific numbers, saying: “Thanks to the hard work of our staff we were able to continue with all of the most urgent operations and procedures for patients this winter, as well as much of our routine care, at the same time as treating a high number of Covid patients at the peak of the second wave.
“The pandemic has had an inevitable impact on the NHS across the country, but we are doing everything we can to see and treat people for their planned operations, procedures and care safely, and as quickly as possible.”
A spokesperson for the hospital added: "During the second wave of the pandemic this winter we delivered all urgent and life-threatening operations and maintained as much routine activity as possible – including outpatient appointments, as well as surgeries, cancer care and diagnostic services."
The Nuffield Trust said the strain of the backlog on patients should not be underestimated, but added it is no surprise given the intense pressure of Covid-19 hospitalisations.
Sarah Scobie, deputy director of research at the organisation, said healthcare staff have made huge sacrifices during the pandemic, but more will be asked of them.
She added: “It is clear that the NHS has been set back years as it faces a battle to clear these major backlogs of postponed care.
"Returning to the levels of activity seen before March last year will not be enough to meet demand, and we will continue to live with coronavirus for years to come."
Overall, 24,181 people were waiting to start hospital treatment at Milton Keynes University Hospital Trust at the end of February – an increase of 16% on February 2020.
Across England, 4.7 million people were waiting for treatment at this time – the highest number since records began in mid-2007.
This was up from 4.6 million in January, and means almost half a million patients have been added to the waiting list since the pandemic began in March 2020.
The King's Fund said long waiting times do not just affect patients, with concerns growing over access to community services and mental health provision.
David Maguire, senior analyst at the think-tank, said: "The Government needs to be honest with the public and start planning for long-term NHS recovery.
"A good place to start would be with a fully funded workforce strategy to address the persistent staff shortages that have dogged the service for years."
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the Government will ensure the NHS has the funds it needs to tackle the build-up in waiting lists.
Professor Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, said treating 400,000 patients with Covid-19 has "inevitably" impacted the NHS, but the dedication of staff means they delivered almost a million operations and procedures during the winter wave.