Covid backlog falls despite significant pressure across the NHS

Thanks to the hard work and widespread innovation of NHS staff the waiting list has reduced, new monthly data shows today, alongside faster ambulance response times across the country.

Despite huge disruption from industrial action and ongoing record levels of demand for emergency care, monthly performance data shows the number of patients waiting for elective care in October was down to 6.44 million, with waits for procedures and appointments down to 7.71 million (from 7.77 million in September).

England’s top doctor praised the “incredible” efforts of frontline staff for the reduction, as the progress came following three days of industrial action at the beginning of October.

Thanks to extensive winter plans and the NHS blueprint to recover urgent and emergency care, ambulance response times in November were faster across all categories, with the most serious call-outs (Category 1) almost 10 seconds faster (8:32) compared with 8:40 in October, and Category 2 almost three minutes faster at 38:30 (from 41:41 in October).

The most serious call outs were almost a minute faster than same month last year (9:26) despite higher numbers of people needing emergency help with the number of the most serious incidents up 15% compared to the same month last year. (79,241 Category 1 incidents last month and 68,888 in November 2022.)

Response times to Category 2 calls are almost 10 minutes faster than the same month last year (48:10 in Nov 2022), despite much higher demand this year – 382,835 Category 2 call-outs were responded to this year, a 20% increase on the same month last year (319,957).

More than 826,000 calls to 999 were answered in November, and data shows they were answered on average five times faster than in the same month last year – down from an average answer time of 37 seconds in November last year, to eight seconds this year.

Monthly data also shows handover times have improved since the previous month, averaging 35:04 minutes (down from 37:33 in October). Separate weekly data published on handover delays cannot be compared week on week, due to the data provided last week being incomplete.

Separate weekly winter data shows winter viruses continue to rapidly rise in hospitals across the country with more people in hospital with flu, norovirus and Covid, compared to the previous week.

There were 402 patients in hospital with flu last week, up by almost two thirds (65.4%) from the week before (243) and norovirus continuing to rise with 506 adults in hospital last week – up by almost 25% on the previous week. (406)

Staff absences are also increasing, up to an average of 49,020 each day last week (from 47,018 the week before).

Robust NHS planning for winter began earlier than ever before, including the nationwide rollout of care ‘traffic control’ centres, extra ambulances and beds, and the rapid expansion of the world-leading virtual wards programme, helping keep patients out of hospitals and treating more people at home and in the community.

Today, the NHS also announced that hundreds of new staff have joined the emergency care workforce ahead of winter, with more call handlers, paramedics and other ambulance staff in place ahead of the busiest winter months.

NHS national medical director, Professor Sir Stephen Powis, said: “We know NHS staff have continued to pull out all the stops to deliver for patients and work towards the aims in our elective care and UEC recovery plans, while contending with ongoing pressure, and it is great to see clearly that hard work reflected in today’s figures.

“With the overall waiting list for elective care coming down, ambulance response times faster than both last month and the same time last year, as well as hundreds of new staff joining the emergency care workforce ahead of winter, this progress is excellent.

“While the sheer amount of care being delivered for patients by our staff is incredible, we know we still face a challenging winter on a number of fronts, with the number of patients in hospital with flu and norovirus increasing considerably each week, continued issues discharging patients who are medically fit due to a lack of social care capacity, and another period of industrial action ahead of a the Christmas Bank Holidays.

“Our staff will once more be prioritising urgent and emergency care to protect patient safety and ensure those in life-saving emergencies can receive the best possible care, and the public can continue to play their part by using NHS services in the usual way – calling 999 in an emergency and using NHS 111 for other health conditions, and by getting their flu and Covid jabs if eligible.”

Today is the last day people can book flu and Covid-19 vaccinations online. It is still possible to book vaccinations after December 15 through local NHS vaccination services, like pharmacies or walk-in sites.

Today’s data shows last week adult general and acute beds were up to 95,098 each day on average – almost 1500 more than the same week last year (93,605).

Robust winter planning means the NHS has over 3,000 more core beds in place now, and the NHS is still on track to have 99,000 core beds in place.

While separate weekly data shows more calls to NHS 111 were answered last week (373,918) than the week before (358,797). There were 10% more calls answered by NHS 111 last week compared to the same week last year (338,388).

A&Es continue to see high demand, with more than two million people (2,162,122) attending emergency departments in November, with 545,636 emergency admissions.

Challenges discharging patients who no longer need to be in hospital settings are still having a considerable impact, with weekly data showing an average 12,947 people who are fit to be discharged to places such as care homes remain in hospital each day.

It was also the busiest ever October for diagnostics, with 2,271,492 tests, checks and scans carried out.

Separate data published today shows “one stop shop” community diagnostic centres across the country have carried out more than six million tests and checks (6,188,889) since July 2021.