The latest data shows major A&E departments saw their second-highest ever numbers of patients in July, while paramedics were sent out to 82,000 emergencies last month, 8,000 more than the record set in June.
More than a million 999 calls were made to ambulance services in July – the highest number ever recorded – as the NHS battles a summer crisis in patient demand.
Meanwhile, the government announced that a further 94 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Thursday, bringing the UK total to 130,701. Separate figures published by the Office for National Statistics showed there had been 155,000 deaths registered in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate. And as of 9am on Thursday, there had been a further 33,074 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases in the UK, the government said.
The Independent has learned that more operations were cancelled on Wednesday at the University Hospitals Birmingham Trust and in Manchester, while doctors have been told that wards are dangerously understaffed, with one hospital trust at “full capacity”.
Earlier this week, major hospitals in London declared “black alerts”, with a shortage of beds at St Mary’s Hospital and Charing Cross Hospital, while operations have been cancelled in Sheffield, where bosses have converted a second ward to cope with Coronavirus admissions.
Dr Katherine Henderson, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, warned that patient crowding was now happening in A&Es, which was “compromising patient care”.
She added: “The NHS has been running hot for months now and these figures show we are nearly at boiling point.
“We are worried that the public think things are getting back to normal on the virtual eve of a further reduction in restrictions, and messages from the centre that say things are OK are disingenuous – the reality is that the health service is really struggling.”
Major hospital A&E departments saw 1.43 million attendances in July, down from the record set in June but still the second-highest figure since 2010.
Of these patients, 402,000 were admitted to hospital and almost 90,000 waited over four hours for a bed, with 2,215 patients waiting over 12 hours.
In Manchester, the situation got so bad at the Salford Royal Foundation Trust this week that senior consultants were called to a meeting with the medical director on Monday and were told the hospital had activated its “full capacity protocol” because of the pressure on services.
One medic said they were told that some wards were “dangerously understaffed”, and consultants were asked to do more hours on wards. They said: “This is normal work at winter levels in mid-August. There are the usual underlying issues, such as massive demand, chronic underfunding, staffing shortages and the inability to discharge to the community.”
Salford Royal’s medical director Dr Pete Turkington said: “We are currently facing a very high demand for our services, and our staff are focused on giving our patients the best care despite these pressures.”
At the University Hospitals Birmingham Trust on Wednesday, bosses took the decision to cancel most routine surgery that required a stay in intensive care, because of a lack of beds. A small number of surgeries did go ahead.
On Thursday, the trust had 198 Covid-positive patients, with 32 in intensive care. It has also seen A&E attendances jump from between 850 and 950 a day to 1,300 at times.
A trust spokesperson said: “Despite treating more than 15,000 severely ill patients with Covid – more than any other hospital trust in the country – the trust continues to prioritise the most time-critical urgent surgery while working to prevent disruption for all other patients.
“We are treating a higher number of very sick patients requiring urgent and emergency care than before the pandemic, and would strongly encourage people to use NHS 111 online first to find the most appropriate service. We also urge those who have not yet had a Covid vaccination to use the walk-in vaccination services available across Birmingham and Solihull.”
The latest data from NHS England on Thursday also revealed that the total overall waiting list for routine treatments was now at 5.5 million patients in June, up 200,000 in a month from May.
This is the highest number since records began in August 2007.
Although Coronavirus has been blamed for the growing backlog, the NHS has been struggling with meeting its waiting-time targets for years. The main 18-week target for hospital care was last met in February 2016, while the four-hour target in A&E has not been achieved since July 2015.
Tim Gardner, senior policy fellow at the Health Foundation, said: “The government and NHS leaders now need to be clear and realistic with the public about how they intend to get the NHS back to full strength, including dealing with the backlog of care.
“There will need to be significant investment at the upcoming spending review if we are to see improvements on waiting lists and addressing the staff shortages which are holding back progress.”
Although waiting lists are growing, the NHS has been able to make progress in tackling those waiting the longest, with the number waiting over a year for their treatment dropping to 304,000 in June. This is down from 336,733 in May and 385,490 in April. It is still significantly higher than before the pandemic, when the number of people waiting for more than a year was just over 1,000.
NHS England said 275,271 people were admitted for routine treatment in hospitals in June, three times higher than the figure in 2020 but still lower than in 2019, when 289,203 patients were admitted.
The number of patients waiting longer than 18 weeks for care dropped by 25,000 in June. The average wait for routine treatment is 10.4 weeks, which has dropped for the fourth month in a row.
Health experts have warned that the number of people on waiting lists could reach as high as 13 million in the next year, as patients waiting to be seen come forward for treatment following the pandemic.
NHS England said it carried out more diagnostic tests in July than at any point in the last year, with 2 million tests being done, up more than 747,000 on the same month last year.
Around a quarter of a million people were checked for cancer in June, the second-highest number on record, and more than 27,000 people started treatment for cancer in the same period, a 42 per cent increase on June last year.
Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director for NHS England, said: “NHS staff have made effective use of the additional resources made available to us to recover services which were inevitably disrupted during the pandemic, and we are continuing to tackle the Covid backlog.
“This has come as services have seen some of the highest ever numbers of patients coming forward for care during the summer months, all at the same time as delivering the biggest and most precise vaccine rollout in our history.
“I would urge anyone who needs the NHS to come forward through NHS 111 Online so that staff can help you with the best option for your care.”