Emergency care continues to face record demand as more people than ever before checked for cancer last year

A&Es across the country experienced the busiest May on record with NHS urgent and emergency care staff remaining under significant pressure, new data published today shows.

Emergency departments across the country had the highest number of attendances for any May (2,240,070) – the third highest total since records began – and over 4,500 patients per day more than in April.

The monthly performance statistics also show ambulance crews attended 624,092 face-to-face call-outs last month, the highest number since May 2022 (632,625).

The high demand came after the busiest winter ever for the NHS and in a month with three bank holiday weekends, which traditionally see more people coming forward for urgent and emergency care.

NHS staff continued to make progress on recovering routine services with the amount of time people are waiting for elective appointments decreasing, with the average waiting time dropping to 13.8 weeks (from 14.1 weeks) – the lowest since before the start of winter (November).

The reduction in average waits came as the NHS faced the most disruptive industrial action in its history in April, with four days of strikes by junior doctors resulting in more than 195,000 appointments and procedures having to be rescheduled.

NHS staff have been working flat-out to reduce long waits for elective care, and more than 1.2 million people received elective treatment in April (1,221,849).

Alongside this, the figures show another record-breaking 12 months of cancer treatment and referrals, with more people than ever before getting checked and starting treatment.

In the past year (May 2022 to April 2023), over 2.8 million people were referred for urgent cancer checks by their GP (2,881,752), compared to over 2.6 million the previous year (2,689,784) – a 7% increase. In the past 12 months, 327,312 people started treatment for cancer (May 2022- April 2023) compared to 321,144 in the year before.

More than 2 million checks and scans were carried out in April (2,016,200), with the overall waiting list for diagnostic appointments falling from 1.62 million to 1.56 million. Over the past  year (May 2022 to April 2023), 24.6 million checks and scans have been carried out, and community diagnostic centres have delivered more than four million in people’s local communities since they were rolled out.

The figures come after the NHS announced tens of thousands of patients are set to receive a diagnosis and treatment for skin cancer faster, with accelerated NHS rollout of ‘teledermatology’, which involves taking high spec images of spots, moles or lesions on people’s skin.

NHS National Medical Director, Professor Sir Stephen Powis, said: “Despite the NHS continuing to see high levels of demand across urgent and emergency care, hard-working staff are continuing to deliver improvements as set out in our urgent and emergency recovery plan.

“Even as hospitals dealt with the most disruptive industrial action in its history, average waits for people on the waiting list dropped to just under 14 weeks – the lowest it’s been since before winter.

“We knew the overall waiting list would continue to increase for a time as people who may have put off coming forward for care over the past few years of the pandemic sought help, and that demand would be reflected in other areas as well – today’s data shows another record 12 months for cancer treatment and referrals, with more than ever before getting checked and starting treatment. We continue to urge people to come forward because the earlier cancer is detected, the easier it is to treat.”

Published statistics for April show that 1.55 million calls were answered by NHS 111, an average of 51.7 thousand per day.

The Patient Experience Survey is published twice a year, and the latest results – for people who used NHS 111 between October 2022 and March 2023 inclusive – show if the NHS 111 service had not been available:

  • 24.3% of patients would have contacted their GP practice
  • 13.6% would have contacted an urgent treatment centre
  • 11.4% would have contacted the 999 ambulance service
  • 22.9% would have contacted a hospital emergency department.