The data further shows that 169,660 urgent cancer referrals were made by GPs in England in August 2020, down from 200,317 in the same month last year – a fall of 15 per cent.
This compares with a year-on-year drop of 19 per cent in July, 21 per cent in June and 47 per cent in May. Urgent breast cancer referrals were down from 13,220 in August 2019 to 9,498 in August 2020, a fall of 28 per cent.
The 43 per cent drop in routine treatments is a slight improvement on July, when the year-on-year drop in activity was 55 per cent.
Macmillan Cancer Support said the data showed there are “still thousands fewer people being tested or treated for cancer than the same time last year, meaning that the backlog of patients continues to grow”.
Sir Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, wrote to hospitals on April 29 instructing them to restore urgent non-Covid services as soon as possible, and again on July 31 to order the restoration of all non-Covid services.
In March, the number of patients who had waited more than 52 weeks for their treatment to be completed stood at 3,097. By June this had risen to 50,536.
Despite the order to restart all services, the tally rose to 83,203 in July and then to 111,026 in August – the highest since modern records began more than a decade ago.
Siva Anandaciva, chief analyst at The King’s Fund, said: “NHS staff are working hard to restore services and find innovative new ways to care for patients but, as these figures show, there is a mountain to climb. It now seems unlikely that the highly ambitious targets for autumn will be met and it is important to be honest with patients and the public.
“Covid-19 hospital admissions are rising in some parts of the country, thousands of people need support for long-lasting Covid symptoms, and over four million people are stuck on waiting lists after some treatments were delayed during the first wave of the virus.”