Thousands of patients are going without vital NHS treatment as hospitals are still struggling to get services back to normal, figures for England show.
Nearly 2m patients have been waiting more than the target time of 18 weeks for routine treatment and surgery.
The numbers referred for cancer check-ups and starting treatment are also below the levels seen a year ago.
But services are seeing more people than they were in the spring when the pandemic first hit.
The data released by NHS England shows:
- There are currently 4.2m people on the waiting list for routine treatment, nearly half of whom have waited longer than 18 weeks, which is three times higher than it was a year ago
- Just over 100,000 of the waiting list have waited longer than a year – the highest number for 12 years
- GPs made 169,600 urgent referrals for cancer check-ups in August, down from more than 200,000 the year before
- Just over 20,000 patients started their cancer treatment in August, a drop of a fifth in a year
- The numbers arriving at A&E in September was just below 1.7m, 400,000 lower than September 2020
But NHS England insisted services were making “progress”, and said it was vital non-Covid services were not “jeopardized” by the second wave of coronavirus.
Covid second wave having impact on hospitals
The number of Covid patients being admitted to hospital is rising – latest figures show close to 500 a day are being brought in across England.
That is below the peak in the spring when hospitalisations hit 3,000 a day.
A large proportion of the admissions have been in the north of England, although overall only around 3% of hospital beds are currently taken up by Covid patients.
Prof Michael Griffin president of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, said he feared core services were already in the process of being curtailed.
He said he was hearing of hospitals cutting back on operations and diagnostic checks as they “prepare for an influx of Covid patients”.
He also warned there would be large numbers of “invisible” cancer patients who had not yet been diagnosed because they had not sought help.
Sara Bainbridge, of Macmillan Cancer Support, said the disruption caused by the pandemic was having a “traumatic impact” on cancer patients.
“Cancer must not become the ‘forgotten C’ during this pandemic.”