NEARLY 1,000 extra patients joined the waiting list for routine treatment at University Hospitals Dorset Trust in April.

NHS England statistics show 47,971 patients were waiting for non-urgent consultant-led care at University Hospitals Dorset (UHD) at the end of April, 853 more than 47,118 the month before.

The figure was also a 24 per cent increase on the 38,673 on the waiting list in April last year.

Across England, the number of people waiting for treatment rose by 171,720 from almost 5 million in March to 5.1 million in April – the highest number since records began in August 2007.

The Health Foundation said the backlog offered a "stark reminder" of the task ahead for the NHS, adding greater investment as well as support for innovative ideas was needed.

Tim Gardner, senior policy fellow, said: "Making incremental improvements to business as usual, while important, will not be enough to address a challenge of this scale."

NHS rules state that patients referred for non-urgent consultant-led elective care should start treatment within 18 weeks.

But the figures show 4,809 had been waiting more than a year for treatment at UHD in April – down from 5,591 in March but far higher than the 273 who had been waiting this long in April last year.

Chief medical officer, Alyson O’Donnell said: “Over the last year the NHS has been under pressure as we have had to focus on managing the Covid pandemic. In the south west, UHD was one of the worst affected trusts, with January this year being particularly challenging.

“Through this we have continued to prioritise planned care for those with the most urgent need. However, our waiting lists did increase during this time for some elective cases.

“We are now seeing a continuing increase as the number of referrals from GPs rises. We are working to see and treat patients as quickly as possible as we understand the impact on every patient involved.

“To tackle the problem, staff across the healthcare system are providing more clinics, diagnostic services and operating lists particularly out of hours and at weekends.

“We are also using new ways of working to add efficiency and convenience – for example video consultations.

“We are working closely with the independent sector to use their facilities for the diagnosis and treatment of more patients. We have also undertaken a large project to validate our waiting lists and engage with our patients through text messaging. This has proven very successful.

“Looking further ahead, we are also developing ambitious plans to create a new outpatient clinic in the community – possibly in a shopping centre in Poole. This is part of a ‘think big’ initiative to help us work differently in the future and as an effective way to tackle our waiting lists.”