Revealed: Three-quarters of NHS hospitals are still treating FEWER patients than pre-Covid-19

Including one, where HALF the number of routine ops like hip and knee are being carried out.

  • EXCLUSIVE: Three quarters of hospital trusts in England treated fewer inpatients than before the pandemic

  • West Hertfordshire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust treated 58 per cent fewer inpatients in August on average

  • Surgeons say huge regional differences are partly caused by delays to set up special backlog surgical hubs

Most NHS hospitals are still treating fewer patients than before Covid-19, MailOnline can reveal amid calls to make the backlog one of the Government's top priorities this winter.

Close to 270,000 routine operations like hip and knee replacements were carried out between June-August this year per month. For comparison, the figure was around 9 per cent higher during the same period in 2019.

Three quarters of all NHS trusts are still performing below pre-pandemic levels, according to our analysis of local data.

West Hertfordshire Teaching Hospitals completed 718 inpatient treatments on average through June, July, and August. The figure was more than double that (1,763) in 2019.

Leading experts told MailOnline the huge regional differences are being caused, in part, by delays in setting up special surgical hubs to tackle the pandemic-induced backlog, which has risen to an all-time record of more than 7million.

So-called 'bed blockers', who are medically fit to leave hospital but have nowhere else to go, have been blamed for stalling efforts.

NHS bosses say Covid-19, despite posing much less of a threat now than earlier on in the pandemic, is still causing havoc in hospitals.

Professor Neil Mortensen, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said: 'Despite huge efforts by NHS staff to treat people waiting for hospital treatment, we are not yet managing to bring the waiting list down.

'Some areas are almost back to pre-pandemic levels of surgical activity, but others are struggling. Many hospitals do not have enough beds or operating theatres available.'

Experts have warned upcoming strike action, announced today by the Royal College of Nursing, will only worsen the backlog.

Three quarters of all NHS trusts are still performing below pre-pandemic levels, according to MailOnline's analysis of local data. West Hertfordshire Teaching Hospitals completed 718 inpatient treatments on average through June, July and August. The figure was more than double that (1,763) in 2019

NHS England data show just over 275,000 inpatients were given an operation or were treated in hospitals in August this year. It was down 6 per cent on the 293,000 average treated in the three months up to August in 2019

Professor Mortensen also suggested bed-blocking was partly to blame. He added: 'Beds are full of patients who should really be treated in the community, or needed for emergency admissions.

'The Government has invested in setting up surgical hubs — ring-fenced facilities for planned surgery — but we don't have them in every area yet. Many hospitals are struggling with staffing shortages too.

'Looking ahead to the winter months, the new health secretary needs to make tackling the backlog his top priority, and work with the professions and NHS leaders on these challenges.'

MailOnline's analysis shows the number of elective inpatient treatments, such as hip and knee replacements, that were completed during June, July, and August in hospital trusts across England. The same data for 2019 was then used as a comparison.

In total, 103 out of 136 trusts analysed carried out fewer in the three months up to August 2022 compared to the same period in 2019.

Rates were down 59 per cent at West Hertfordshire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.

A 44 per cent drop was also seen at University Hospitals Birmingham (2,514 this year, vs 4,480 before the pandemic) and Great Western Hospitals (1,071 this year, vs 1,907 pre-Covid).

Some hospitals claimed their figures, published by NHS England monthly, were skewed by a switch over to electronic patient records this year.

On the other end of the spectrum, Salisbury and Wirral University Teaching Hospital appeared to treat more than double the pre-pandemic average.

MailOnline's analysis does not look at outpatient data, which makes up the majority of NHS hospital activity each month.

Despite most hospitals treating fewer inpatients, overall outpatient treatments — which do not require overnight stays — were up.

Overall, around 1.1million people were given the treatments — which make up most hospital activity and include minor procedures such as X-rays, MRI scans and blood tests — in August, up 5.5 per cent on the nearly 1million on the same month in 2019.

More people may have gone on holiday in August 2022 than before the pandemic, resulting in more patients choosing to delay their surgeries, NHS trusts told MailOnline.

Some hospitals suffered with higher-than-average staff sickness rates in August, struggled to recruit in speciality positions, and faced unprecedented pressures in A&E.

The combination reduced the amount of inpatient treatments carried out in the month at some trusts, officials said.

An NHS England spokesperson said: 'Actually, the most recent figures for August show the NHS is doing more elective activity than in the same month before the pandemic and hardworking staff have made significant progress in reducing the backlog, with two-year waits virtually eliminated and waits of more than 18 months down by a quarter since February.'

Whittington Health NHS Trust said: 'We are not treating fewer inpatients than before the pandemic and 'Referral to Treatment' (RTT) data is not an accurate reflection of the amount of care we have provided.

'In fact, during June, July, and August this year we treated 6,783 patients who required planned care which is 150 more patients, not fewer, than the number who received treatment in the same period prior to the Covid-19 pandemic despite the additional bank holiday this year.

'We are committed to treating everyone who requires our care as quickly and as safely as possible.'

A spokesperson from Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: 'We recognise that some of our patients are waiting longer than we'd like and apologise for the impact that this delay has on them and their families.

'Having prioritised care for the most critically ill during the pandemic, we are now focused on reducing the backlog of elective patients waiting for their surgery as quick as we possibly can.'

The revelations come after official figures last month showed a record 7million people in England are waiting for routine NHS ops.

Leading experts fear the 'grim milestone' — the equivalent of one in eight people — will only get topped as the pressures of winter, Covid-19, and flu kick in.

Almost 390,000 patients have been forced to endure year-long waits for their treatment, often while in serious pain.

Fresh monthly figures will be released tomorrow.

Meanwhile, nurses today announced they will strike after more than 300,000 members were balloted by the Royal College of Nursing in the first vote on industrial action in the union's 106-year history.

A 'bank holiday' service is expected to hit thousands of patients, with delays to and cancellations for routine treatment from operations, to dialysis, to chemotherapy.

Almost 100 NHS trusts voted in favour of strikes in England alone. Some trusts did not meet the legal threshold to qualify for action.

Some ambulance trusts, plus local integrated care boards also voted to strike, with chaos expected to reach all corners of the NHS.

All NHS employers in Northern Ireland and Scotland will be included, and all bar one in Wales met the relevant legal thresholds.