NHS staff cared for 50% more non-COVID patients during winter peak

NHS hospitals cared for more than one million patients without COVID while battling the peak of the winter wave of infections, new figures showed today.

More than 100,000 patients seriously ill with the virus needed hospital admission for treatment in January, a third of all those who had been admitted, up to that point, since the start of the pandemic.

However, thanks to the hard work of NHS staff, 1.3 million patients benefitted from non-COVID care in January compared with around 847,000 in April, when COVID admissions first peaked.

In the first month of the year, 961,000 patients received elective care – routine operations and other procedures – and 350,000 more got emergency care for other conditions.

Comparing the first and second peaks, around 400,000 more people got pre-planned care and 70,000 more were admitted for emergency care during January’s winter spike than in April 2020.

January also saw 171,231 cancer referrals – more than double the number in April – with 22,942 patients beginning treatment, up more than 2,000 on the April COVID peak.

Professor Stephen Powis, the national medical director for the NHS in England, said: “Admitting more than 100,000 COVID patients to hospital in a single month inevitably had a knock-on effect on some non-urgent care.

“However, thanks to the hard work of NHS staff and the innovations in treatment and care developed over the course of the pandemic, hospitals treated more than one million people with other conditions in January, at the peak of the winter wave, nearly twice as many as they did last April.

“That is a testament to the skill, dedication and commitment nurses, doctors, therapists and countless other staff showed in the most challenging period in NHS history.”

The NHS in England has cared for more than 350,000 patients needing hospital treatment for COVID since the start of the pandemic.

Some 42,936 were admitted in April 2020, when the first wave peaked with almost 19,000 on wards.

While the number fell over the summer months, hospitals admitted another 101,956 COVID patients in January, with more than 34,000 on wards on the busiest day.

During January one in three of all COVID patients throughout the pandemic was admitted, yet still 961,000 people received pre-planned treatment and 350,000 getting emergency care from England’s health service for non-COVID problems during that time.

In April 2020 567,000 patients got a non-COVID elective treatment while people got emergency care in England’s hospitals for non-COVID problems 280,000 times, a total of 847,000.

Latest monthly performance statistics show that in the first month of the year, for every COVID patient admitted, more than 15 non-COVID diagnostic tests were carried out.

Since the pandemic took a grip of the country in March last year, a total of 15.8 million essential tests and checks – including MRIs, CTs and ultrasounds – took place in England’s NHS.

New figures also show that average waiting times for non-urgent surgery recovered after the disruption of the first wave, falling by more than 38% since July.

Efforts are being made to tackle the backlog of patients arising from the first wave of the pandemic, with the number of patients on the waiting list for a diagnostic test falling by more than 50,000 between December 2020 and January 2021.

The new data also shows that ambulance response times and A&E waits have bounced back to above pre-COVID levels.

In February, 322,272 emergency admissions were made via A&E, with more than eight in ten patients seen within four hours.

The number of patients waiting more than 12 hours also fell by two-thirds compared to the month of the January peak.

Ambulance response times improved for all categories, with the response to life threatening calls dropping to just six minutes and 51 seconds.

1,609,181 diagnostic tests took place in January 2021, while 15,875,793 diagnostics tests were carried out from 1 March 2020 to 31 January 2021.