The majority of NHS hospitals in England are still clearing fewer patients off their waiting lists than they were before Covid, MailOnline analysis shows.
Roughly 287,000 elective procedures, such as hip and knee ops, were carried out during January.
Yet 300,000-plus were performed during the same month in 2020 — two months before the pandemic hit Britain and caused NHS waiting lists to spiral to a record high.
Eight in 10 NHS trusts are still performing below pre-pandemic levels, according to our analysis of local data.
Three performed nearly half as many, despite the Government pledging to eradicate the backlog that has amassed since the Covid crisis began by drastically ramping up activity.
MailOnline looked at the performance of 133 NHS trusts in England and compared the number of procedures they performed among patients that had been referred for elective treatment this January against the same month in 2020. Just 29 trusts performed more than they did pre-Covid. University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust (top left), which figures suggest has seen the biggest drop, performed just 2,170 at the start of this year. For comparison, it managed 4,278 during the same month three years ago
Hospitals in England carried out close to 290,000 procedures in January, meaning performance plummeted eight per cent over the three-year period. The pre-pandemic average was around 305,000 per month
A record 7.21million Brits were stuck on the backlog at the end of January — up from 4.4million before Covid.
The surge in Covid admissions during the pandemic saw staff redeployed to treat infected patients and thousands of operations cancelled.
The list has continued to creep up despite Covid levels declining as more Brits come forward for treatment and hospitals struggle to return to pre-pandemic capacity.
MailOnline’s analysis comes after the three-day strike by junior doctors, considered among the worst in the health service’s history.
Health officials have warned targets to curb waiting lists are ‘under threat’ because of the unprecedented action, which saw up to 60,000 medics walk out of hospitals across England and demand an inflation-busting 35 per cent pay rise.
MailOnline looked at the performance of 133 NHS trusts in England and compared the number of procedures they performed among patients that had been referred for elective treatment this January against the same month in 2020.
The figure does not include emergency surgeries, cancer treatments or diagnostic procedures.
But it does include overnight hip operations and day case procedures, such as cataract removals.
Just 29 trusts performed more than they did pre-Covid.
University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, which figures suggest has seen the biggest drop, performed just 2,170 at the start of this year.
For comparison, it managed 4,278 during the same month three years ago.
Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust, which is one of the biggest in the country and serves a population of half a million, was the next-worst offender.
Data suggests that it performed 48.6 per cent fewer operations at the start of 2023 (3,036) compared to three years earlier (1,559).
Some trusts disputed the figures, arguing they only show a snapshot of hospital activity. However, the data is the only metric of elective procedures performed that is published by the NHS.
At the other end of the scale, Alder Hey Children’s Hospital experienced a 115.9 per cent increase in its activity (542 vs 251).
Data from NHS England shows that the number of people waiting for routine hospital treatment jumped by 13,000 in January to 7.21million. The record figure means there is 64 per cent more people stuck in the queue, often in pain, compared to before Covid struck
Professor Fiona Myint, vice president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said not having enough staff was making it hard to chip away at the backlog.
Staff shortages and absences among nurses and anaesthetists means operations are cancelled at short notice ‘every week’, she said.
Professor Myint called for a staff boost because without this ‘reducing the backlog of patients waiting for treatment will be difficult and slow’. Many of these will be in agonising pain.
The NHS workforce plan, due to be published this month, is expected to double the number of medical school places in England and allow doctors to be trained on the job in a bid to boost recruitment.
Under the NHS recovery plan, unveiled by former Health Secretary Sajid Javid last year, the Government ordered the NHS to deliver around 30 per cent more procedures than pre-pandemic levels by 2024/25.
What do the latest NHS performance figures show?
The overall waiting list grew by around 13,000 to 7.21million in January. This is up from 7.20 in December.
There were 1,122 people waiting more than two years to start treatment at the end of January, down from 1,149 in December.
The number of people waiting more than a year to start hospital treatment was 379,245, down from 406,035 the previous month.
Some 34,976 people had to wait more than 12 hours in A&E departments in England in February. The figure is down from 42,735 in January.
A total of 126,948 people waited at least four hours from the decision to admit to admission in February, down from 142,139 in January.
Just 71.5 per cent of patients were seen within four hours at A&Es last month, the worst ever performance. NHS standards set out that 95 per cent should be admitted, transferred or discharged within the four-hour window.
In February, the average category one response time – calls from people with life-threatening illnesses or injuries – was 8 minutes and 30 seconds. The target time is seven minutes.
Ambulances took an average of 32 minutes and 20 seconds to respond to category two calls, such as burns, epilepsy and strokes. This is nearly twice as long as the 18 minute target.
Response times for category three calls – such as late stages of labour, non-severe burns and diabetes – averaged 1 hour, 42 minutes and 39 seconds. Nine in 10 ambulances are supposed to arrive to these calls within two hours.
Some 485,956 patients were waiting more than six weeks for a key diagnostic test in January, including an MRI scan, non-obstetric ultrasound or gastroscopy. This is the highest level since summer 2020.
Without boosting activity, the backlog could spiral to 14million, health chiefs fear.
The health service is supposed to scrap 18 month waits by next month and 12 month waits by March 2025, under Mr Javid’s blueprint.
In a speech in January, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that bringing down the NHS waiting list and getting people ‘the care they need more quickly’ was one of five priorities for the year.
However, a report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies last month warned that the 30 per cent target is ‘highly unlikely to be achieved’ due to the lingering effects of Covid and other pressures on the system.
It expects the backlog to remain flat throughout 2023 and only fall gradually from mid-2024.
The NHS rolled out thousands of ‘virtual wards’ — treating and monitoring patients in their own home rather than hospital — in a bid to tackle the backlog.
And it has rolled out more healthcare teams in the community to ease demand on hospitals.
It comes as latest NHS figures last week revealed that the backlog grew by 13,000 in January to reach a record high.
It means there is 64 per cent more people stuck in the queue compared to before Covid struck.
Some 379,245 — one in 20 of those in the backlog — had been waiting at least 12 months.
And 45,631 people had been waiting for at least 18 months. Although that figure has since fallen to around the 32,000 mark.
The NHS last week claimed that the number of people waiting longest for hospital care has fallen, despite winter pressures and strikes.
A spokesperson for University Hospitals Birmingham, said: ‘Overall, UHB has performed 12 per cent more inpatient elective procedures in January 2023 compared to January 2020, with our teams having worked exceptionally hard to eliminate the longest waits for patients.
‘They are continuing in their extraordinary efforts for patients to ensure that we remain ahead of our plans to eliminate the next cohort (waits of 78 weeks) by the start of April; in line with national expectations.’
The 12 per cent rise includes all day cases and elective treatments, according to the trust.
A spokesperson for Shropshire Community Health NHS Trust, which performed 37.5 per cent fewer procedures, said: ‘We are a Community Trust and our business is predominantly centred around providing community services in people’s homes and we therefore only carry out a very small number of inpatient procedures.
‘Given the small base number of inpatient procedures the reduction in patient terms is also small, however, we continue to work to improve efficiency and maximise access to treatment for our patients.’
Diane Wake, chief executive of The Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust, which performed 37.5 per cent fewer procedures, said: ‘We are really proud that we offer more day case surgery to our patients which means they don’t have to be admitted to hospital to have a procedure. This is a much better experience for them.
‘Between January 2020 and January 2023, we saw a 106 per cent increase in the number of patients who received a day case procedure. Combining admitted and non-admitted patients over the same period shows a total increase of 35.4 per cent.’
West Hertfordshire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which logged the third and seventh biggest drop, have rolled out new patient record systems which have impacted its data.