Thousands of tests and checks every day in January despite Omicron pressure

The NHS delivered 280,000 more diagnostic tests and checks in January compared to the same month last year, new figures show, as staff continue to work hard to tackle long waits and COVID-19 backlogs.

Monthly performance data, published today, shows despite ongoing pressures on staff – including more than three million staff sick days in January alone – hardworking teams across the NHS have continued to pull out all the stops to recover routine care.

From one stop shops for tests, to high intensity theatre lists where surgeons focus on one type of procedure throughout the day, NHS staff across the country have developed innovative ways of working to tackle the backlogs that inevitably built up through the pandemic.

Thanks to ongoing efforts to encourage people to come forward for care, including through lifesaving Help Us Help You campaigns, the NHS carried out thousands more routine checks, tests and procedures compared to the same time last year.

More than 200,000 people were urgently referred for cancer checks in January – 30,000 more compared to the same month last year, and the number of people starting treatment remained high with more than 25,000 people beginning treatment in January.

The latest annual data also shows that more than 2.6 million people were checked for cancer in a year (January 2021 – January 2022) – an increase of over half a million compared to the year before.

Urgent and emergency care services remain busy for staff with 1.8 million A&E attendances in February – an increase of more than two fifths (43%) compared to the same month last year.

The new figures also show the number of 999 calls also increased, with 764,252 calls answered in February 2022 – almost a third more than February 2021.

And despite ongoing pressures, almost 1.24 million people started consultant led treatment in January – 260,000 more people than the same month last year.

The elective recovery plan, published last month, set out a blueprint to address backlogs built up during the pandemic and aims to increase capacity to deliver around 17 million tests performed over a three year period.

NHS national medical director, Professor Stephen Powis, said: “Despite ongoing pressures our hardworking NHS staff delivered 280,000 more tests and checks for patients in January compared to the same time last year, and almost 1.24 million started consultant led treatment, as more people continue to come forward for care who may have been reluctant to seek help during the pandemic.

“Staff across the country are determined to address the Covid-19 backlogs that inevitably built up throughout the pandemic, and while that cannot happen overnight, these figures show that through initiatives like one stop shops, Super Saturdays, and high-intensity theatre lists, we are delivering more care for patients compared to the same time last year.

“As we have said throughout the pandemic and as these figures show, it is vital that anyone who has health concerns comes forward so that staff can help you with the best options for your care.”

Across Wirral, over 10,000 patients have benefited from earlier access to diagnostic tests and checks through the Clatterbridge Community Diagnostic Centre since July 2021, and the Trusts have received a further £10.6 million investment to build two new ‘modular theatres’ at its hospital site, set to open in spring this year to treat an additional 3,000 patients every year.

Barking Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust carried out more than 12,000 surgeries in 2021, after setting up a COVID secure ‘green’ surgical hub at King George Hospital, Ilford. The Trust also delivered more than 100,000 CT and MRI scans across its hospitals.

King’s College Hospital has reduced the number of people waiting more than 52 weeks for treatment from 6,813 in February 2021 to 832 by the end of January 2022. The neurosurgery team are set to carry out an additional 750 operations a year thanks to dedicated inpatient theatres being put aside to help the team reduce the backlog for their specialty.

The National Paediatric Accelerator Programme, launched last year, has helped the children’s hospitals involved see tens of thousands of patients above pre-pandemic levels, through events like Super Saturday, where extra clinics and theatre spots are opened up for patients.

The monthly data released today shows 1,892,518 diagnostic tests were carried out in January 2022, compared with 1,609,181 in January 2021.

In January, NHS 111 received 1.8m calls, an average of 59.1 thousand calls per day.

In February 2022 there were 460,000 emergency admissions. Emergency admissions are up 15.6% on the preceding 12-month period.

Separate weekly statistics, also published today, show staff absences increased last week, with an average of 55,832 staff off each day in acute hospital trusts.