he cost of fixing NHS waiting times could reach £40bn, according to unpublished Downing Street estimates.
Figures drawn up for Boris Johnson by the Cabinet Office set out that No 10 might have to spend anything between £2bn and £10bn a year for up to four years, reports The Guardian.
The estimate is in addition to core NHS funding and highlights the scale of the challenge in getting NHS waiting times back to manageable levels.
Data from NHS England shows that 5.12 million people were on the waiting list at the end of April – the highest number since records began in August 2007.
The figures, published on Thursday, also show that the number of people having waited more than a year to start hospital treatment stood at 385,490 in April.
This is down from 436,127 in the previous month, but around 35 times the number waiting a year earlier, in April 2020, which was 11,042.
Meanwhile, A&E attendances in England last month were 65 per cent higher than a year ago, NHS England said – although this is a reflection of lower-than-usual numbers for May 2020, which were affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
A total of 2.08 million attendances were recorded in May, up from 1.26 million in May 2020.
The equivalent figure for May 2019, a non-pandemic year, was 2.17 million.
Dr Nick Scriven, past president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said: “The warning signs about where the NHS was heading were glaringly visible a number of years ago and what we are seeing in recent monthly data is the result of a lack of preparedness for the inevitable.
“With acute and emergency care under increasing strain and bed occupancy well over safe levels at more than 90 per cent – yet far less impact from Covid at this point – we have major problems.
“We are in a dire state when it comes to record numbers of people waiting for treatment, but we must also remember the four-hour emergency access target has not been met for years now with little to no change in approach.”
The data also shows the number of people admitted for routine treatment in hospitals in England in April was 223,780 – more than five times the number a year earlier at 41,121, although again this reflects lower-than-usual figures for April 2020 during the first wave of the pandemic.
The equivalent figure for April 2019, a non-pandemic year, was 280,209.
Emergency admissions to A&E departments in England also showed a rise last month, up from 398,406 in May 2020 to 543,754.
The equivalent figure for May 2019, a non-pandemic year, was 547,382.
Additional reporting by the Press Association.