More than half of Londoners in hospital with Covid are being treated for other illnesses

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The number of people having to wait more than a year to start treatment stood at 306,996, down from 312,665 in the previous month but up 60 per cent from the number waiting in November 2020, which was 192,169.

A total of 18,585 people in England were waiting more than two years to start routine hospital treatment at the end of November last year, up from 16,225 at the end of October.

The number waiting more than two years is now about seven times the 2,608 people who were waiting longer than two years in April. NHS England has told hospitals to eliminate all waits of more than two years by this March.

Separate figures show that three in five patients fit to leave hospital are blocking beds, representing more than one in seven of all patients in English hospitals. On Jan 9, some 12,396 patients out of 83,474 beds occupied remained in hospital when they were eligible for discharge.

The latest NHS data also show that emergency care is facing unprecedented pressures, with patients seen within four hours at A&E reaching a record low.

Hospitals must ensure that 95 per cent of patients are admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours after presenting at emergency departments. However, just 73.3 per cent in England were seen within the target time in December, down from 74 per cent in November and 80.3 per cent in December 2020.

Saffron Cordery, the deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said the latest figures showed the “intense pressure” trusts are under.

“We continue to be deeply concerned by the strain across urgent and emergency care, with the highest number of category one ambulance calls on record and an increase in those waiting 12 hours or more for admission in emergency departments,” she said.

“There has also been a worrying increase in the number of beds occupied, remaining at a very high level, including in adult critical care wards. At the same time, the number of delayed discharges continues to grow, given the limitations on capacity in social care as some care homes had to reduce new admissions due to the rise of omicron.”

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