Sajid Javid repeated his warning that ‘numbers will go up before they go down’ (Picture: Metro.co.uk/Getty Images)
The number of people waiting for elective procedures on the NHS now stands at a record-breaking 5.9 million – with health leaders admitting ‘it’s a guessing game’ as to how high this number could soar.
Sajid Javid confessed again today the waiting list ‘is going to go up before it comes down’ as the NHS struggles under an ‘unprecedented degree of pressure’ before the dreaded winter peak.
It comes after experts demanded an ‘urgent’ investigation when figures revealed nearly 10,000 more people than usual have died in the last four months from non-Covid conditions.
There are fears many patients with reversible conditions could be dying after hospitals were forced to cancel thousands of appointments at the height of the pandemic.
Speaking to Sky News, the health secretary said now is the time to come forward to the NHS for treatment.
He said: ‘The number of people waiting for elective procedures is around 5.9 million.
‘As I have said, I have been really clear, this number is going to go up before it comes down.
‘Why? Because some seven to eight million people stayed away during the height of the Covid crisis because they were asked to. They did what was asked of them.
‘But I want them to come forward, I want them to come back to the NHS, I want them to know that it is open to them, and if you take that along with normal demand of course that is huge pressure.’
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, told Sky’s Trevor Phillips On Sunday programme: ‘We simply don’t know how many people who didn’t come forward during Covid-19, during the pandemic, will actually come forward, and therefore we are in a bit of a guessing game about exactly how many.
‘But the bit I can assure you is that NHS staff and NHS leaders are working incredibly hard at the moment to create that plan to ensure that we can get through that backlog as quickly as possible.’
The shocking figure follows a new report from The Royal College of Emergency Medicine that suggests at least 4,519 patients died as a result of crowding and 12-hour stays in A&E departments in England in 2020-2021.
The Government is urging everyone over 40 to come forward for booster jabs as ‘Covid storm clouds’ gather over Europe.
Ambulance response times are now at their highest since records began in England, with industry leaders even admitting patient care is being compromised.
Mr Hopson said there is a ‘high degree of concern’ about the challenges the health service is facing.
He told Sky’s Trevor Phillips On Sunday programme: ‘Wherever you look, right the way across the NHS, be it in community services, be it in mental health services, be it in hospitals, the NHS is under an unprecedented degree of pressure for this time of year, and of course that’s before the traditional winter peak.
‘We know that the NHS tends to feel most pressure in early to mid-January. So there is a high degree of concern.’
In an effort to reassure patients, Mr Hopson added: ‘Obviously this is what the NHS is here for.
‘We’re here to provide the best quality of care to everybody who needs it, and our staff are working absolutely flat out to ensure that we deliver in line with the NHS constitution, because that’s what we’re here for.’
When asked about the record waiting lists, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson told Metro.co.uk: ‘Any death is a tragedy for the family and loved ones that are left behind and our condolences go out to anyone who has been affected.
‘Our record investment is helping to tackle the backlog and recover NHS services with an extra £2 billion this year, plus £8 billion more over the next three years to deliver an extra 9 million check, scans, and operations.
‘Alongside this, we are committed to levelling up health and the new Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) will support people across the country to live healthier lives and prevent illness.’
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