Record tests and checks delivered by NHS alongside high demand for A&Es and ambulances

New figures out today show the NHS performed its highest ever number of diagnostic tests for the month of May, while A&E attendances and emergency ambulance call-outs hit an all-time high for any June on record.

Monthly performance data released today show 2.1m diagnostic tests were carried out in May – the most checks ever for that month, as the health service continues to make progress on the most ambitious catch up plan in NHS history.

Figures also show emergency services remain under high levels of pressure, with 2.18 million A&E attendances, making it the busiest ever June for NHS emergency departments, and the second month in a row hard-working staff were contending with record urgent care numbers.

It was also the busiest June ever for 999 calls, with almost 900,000 answered, and the number of the most urgent ambulance call-outs a record high for the month of June (79,436 Category 1 calls).

The pressures came as NHS staff faced continued challenges discharging patients into community and social care settings, with figures showing that more than half of patients fit for discharge in June remained in hospital – an average of 11,590 patients each day.

While today’s data shows the total waiting list is now at 6.61 million, in May 1.7 million people were referred for treatment, and almost 1.4 million people started treatment – with the NHS seeing 200,000 more elective patients compared to same month last year.

New figures published today alongside the monthly data show since the NHS’ COVID elective recovery plan was published in February, the number of people waiting more than two years for treatment has dropped by more than 80%. Those waiting more than 78 weeks is also falling, showing the NHS is making clear inroads into the backlog and eliminating the longest waits for care.

The new figures also show that in May 242,691 people were seen for urgent cancer checks – the third highest month on record – and almost 30,000 people started cancer treatment.

Meanwhile, new figures released by the Office for National Statistics this week show gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 0.5% in May, after a bounce-back across all three main sectors of the economy – services, manufacturing and construction. ONS said health was the biggest driver, with GPs seeing many more people.

NHS staff have also been treating an increasing number of patients with COVID as community infection rates rise – with the latest hospital data from 13 July showing more than 13,000 beds were occupied by COVID-positive patients, the highest number in three months and an increase of nearly half (46%) since the 1st of this month.

As well as patients with COVID in an increasing number of beds, the virus has had an impact on staffing too, causing more than 25,000 absences.

Professor Sir Stephen Powis, national medical director for NHS England, said:

“In the same week NHS staff received the George Cross for their exceptional efforts throughout the pandemic, today’s figures show our hardworking teams across the country are making good progress in addressing the COVID backlogs, with record numbers of diagnostic tests and checks in May, and fewer people facing the longest waits for elective care.

“There is no doubt the NHS still faces significant pressures, from rising COVID admissions, thousands of staff absences due to the virus, the heatwave, and record demand for ambulances and emergency care.

“The latest figures also continue to show just how important community and social care are in helping to free up vital capacity and NHS bed space – supporting those in hospital to leave when they are fit to do so, which is also better for patient recovery.

“While the current heatwave is not shown in today’s figures, it also affects NHS capacity – but it remains important that anyone needing emergency care dials 999, and the public use 111 online and local pharmacies for other health issues and advice.”

Referrals to NHS Post COVID assessment clinics are also increasing, with today’s data showing that between 9 May and 5 June there were a total of 5,286 referrals – 27% more than the previous four weeks – and more than 4,000 initial specialist assessments completed in the same period, an increase of 35% compared with the previous four weeks.

In total, over the last twelve months of published statistics, 47,653 patients have received an initial specialist assessment, and a further 97,997 follow up appointments have taken place.