Nearly half a million patients have been waiting six weeks or more for key diagnostic tests to detect cancer, heart attacks and other serious conditions.
The figures have increased 12-fold in just a year as hospitals struggle with a post-Covid backlog.
Charities fear the long waits will have a devastating impact on NHS patients, particularly those who have cancer which may become untreatable.
Nearly half a million patients have been waiting six weeks or more for key diagnostic tests to detect cancer, heart attacks and other serious conditions (file image)
Separate data shows that the number of patients having cancer treatment is down by a quarter on the same time last year. The total has fallen by 6,647 to 21,599.
Yesterday the Mail revealed that hospital admissions had plummeted across seven serious illnesses.
There is a growing backlog of patients who were unable to receive treatment at the height of the pandemic and who are now at risk of serious complications.
This number is continuing to rise because social distancing and infection control measures mean hospitals can deal with only a limited number of patients.
The latest NHS data shows that 489,647 patients had been waiting more than six weeks for one of 15 key diagnostic tests in July, the last month for which there are figures.
Charities fear the long waits will have a devastating impact on NHS patients, particularly those who have cancer which may become untreatable (file image)
A shocking 291,982 of them had been waiting at least 13 weeks. By comparison, in July 2019, just 40,099 had been waiting six weeks or more and 5,675 for at least 13 weeks.
Michelle Mitchell of Cancer Research UK said: ‘Sadly, the Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on cancer services and the lives of cancer patients. There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done to ensure that cancer screening, diagnosis and treatment will not be even more impacted by any future waves of Covid-19.’
Alex Norris, a Labour health spokesman, said: ‘Patients waiting for these tests cannot afford for the Government to be as slow as they have been in other areas. Some of these tests will be used to diagnose cancer, and for those patients, we know that early diagnosis leads to better treatment and survival.’
An NHS spokesman said: ‘Hospitals have been working round the clock throughout the pandemic so that patients can continue to receive vital tests and treatment while staying safe between March and July.’
The backlog is also affecting routine surgery such as hip and knee operations and NHS figures last week showed that 2.1million patients had been waiting at least 18 weeks.
The number of children receiving their first MMR jab dropped by 20 per cent in the first few weeks of lockdown.
The analysis by Public Health England found that the numbers had since climbed but were still several per cent lower in August than a year earlier
Cancer backlog is ‘frightening’
By Kamal Sultan
The country’s ‘frightening’ cancer backlog will only clear if treatments run at 135 per cent capacity for six months.
The chairmen of four cancer-related allparty parliamentary groups wrote to the Health Secretary over concerns that an estimated 55,000 cancer patients could die without urgent action.
Research from charity Action Radiotherapy calculated that cancer services would have to run at 135 per cent capacity for six months to clear the backlog caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
A letter co-signed by Tim Farron has raised concerns that an estimated 55,000 cancer patients could die without urgent action
Founder Professor Pat Price has warned the UK is ‘past the point of no return’ and it is inevitable patients will die unnecessarily.
The letter was signed by former Liberal Democrats leader Tim Farron, Conservative MP Henry Smith and Labour MPs Tonia Antoniazzi and Mark Tami.
It read: ‘Without an urgent boost to services to catch up, the only way the backlog disappears is through patients dying.’
On September 8, Mr Hancock said the cancer backlog had come down by half. But campaigners and politicians believe the backlog is much greater than initially thought.
They say the Government estimates do not include patients who have relapsed or those still waiting to be diagnosed.