WAITING lists for routine operations have reached the highest levels since records began due to the pandemic.

New NHS figures show that the number of people waiting longer than 18 weeks for routine hospital treatment in England is the highest ever.

The NHS has revealed numbers rose to more than 1.85 million in June, topping the previous high of 1.79 million recorded in August 2007.

Data from NHS England also showed urgent cancer referrals dropped by a fifth on the same month last year, rising to 43 per cent for breast cancer.

Sara Bainbridge, head of policy and influence at Macmillan Cancer Support, said the figures were "worryingly low" and suggest "an alarming backlog of undiagnosed cancer" as well as a growing number of people yet to start treatment.

A total of almost 1.6 million attendances were recorded in July, down from around 2.3 million in the same month last year. Emergency admissions, the majority of which were to A&E departments at hospitals, were down 15 per cent from 554,069 in July 2019 to 472,646.

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Dr Nick Scriven, immediate past president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said: "These are worrying times for the NHS given the threat of a second wave of Covid-19 in addition to all of the other pre-existing issues such as bed capacity, staffing, funding and social care provision.

"Performance remains poor and concerning and, with what we know will be a challenging winter ahead, it will take more than a token cash injection announced by the Prime Minister this week to make up for years of neglect.

"We are particularly worried by the ongoing crisis in accessing diagnostic tests with the total number of patients waiting six weeks or more from referral for one of the 15 key tests at 540,600 - 47.8 per cent of the total number of patients waiting - which, given the target is one per cent, is scandalous."