A RECORD five million Brits are on the NHS waiting list – with 436,000 seeing treatment delayed for more than a year.
The pandemic caused a huge rise in those waiting for appointments for over 12 months – soaring from 3,097 in March last year to 436,127 a year on.
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This is the highest number of people waiting for any month since August 2007.
A total of 4.95 million had NHS hospital treatment delayed by the end of March – the highest number since records began in August 2007.
It comes as health leaders have called for a review of social distancing rules across the NHS to help tackle the waiting list backlog.
In a letter to Health Secretary Matt Hancock, health leaders begged for more funding so the NHS can grasp a "summer of opportunity" and be able to see as many patients as possible in the next few months.
NHS England said the health service had seen almost a quarter of a million people with suspected cancer in March as services "began to bounce back" after the peak of the winter Covid wave.
More than 230,000 people were checked in March even though 12,000 seriously ill patients with Covid required hospital treatment, it said.
Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “The last year has been devastating for cancer patients, with 45,000 fewer patients starting cancer treatment compared to before the pandemic.
"Despite NHS staff working tirelessly to protect cancer services, a substantial cancer backlog remains that must be urgently cleared. To do this Government and NHS leaders must prioritise cancer.
“The UK faces the real possibility of the COVID-19 crisis being replaced with a cancer crisis.
"And cancer survival could go backwards for the first time in generations.
"Now is the time when Government needs to invest in the workforce, diagnostic equipment and research needed to improve cancer survival across the UK, we can’t just go back to where we were pre-pandemic.”
The NHS is slowly getting back on its feet after being overwhelmed with Covid patients.
The total number of people admitted for routine treatment in hospitals in England was up 6 per cent in March 2021 compared with a year earlier – although this is partly a reflection of lower-than-usual numbers for March 2020, which were affected by the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Around 220,349 patients were admitted for treatment during the month, compared with 207,754 in March 2020.
The equivalent figure for March 2019, a non-pandemic year, was 305,356.
It comes as GPs have been told to "discourage face-to-face appointments" and use virtual consultations instead in the wake of the pandemic.
Under new NHS guidance, family doctors are to screen their patients over the telephone first before deciding if they need an in-person appointment.
The measures were introduced at the start of the first lockdown to keep stop the spread of the virus.
Updated NHS guidance now states that this system will be made a permanent fixture.
The Telegraph has reported that when people ring their doctors to book an appointment they will be encouraged to use the online system instead.
It adds that patients who try to get a face-to-face appointment should be deterred in order to prevent "disincentivising the use of the online system".
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