The number of children on NHS waiting lists has passed 350,000 for the first time – after rising by 100,000 in just a year, figures show.
Experts warn that long waits are particularly harmful for youngsters as it can impair their mental and physical development at a critical time of life. But only 65.4 per cent of under-18s are being treated within the 18-week target and 12,000 have been waiting for more than a year.
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) said it was ‘dismayed’ by the figures as it called for youngsters to be prioritised for care.
There were 350,969 waiting to start treatment with a consultant at the end of April, NHS England data reveals.
The overall NHS waiting list, including adults, is also at a record high of 6.5 million
This is up 100,000 in a year to the highest level since records began. The overall NHS waiting list, including adults, is also at a record high of 6.5 million.
The surge in demand, following a slow-down in routine care during the pandemic, means the average child is now waiting three months to start treatment.
Dr Camilla Kingdon, of the RCPCH, said: ‘Lengthy waits are unacceptable for any patient but for children and young people waits can be catastrophic as many treatments need to be given by a specific age or developmental stage.’
The Government said it was working to tackle the Covid backlog with record investment in the NHS.
Dr Kingdon added: ‘It is very disturbing that in the past 12 months, more than 100,000 more children have been added to the NHS waiting list.
‘With more than 350,000 children and young people waiting for care, we have to find a way of addressing this immense need for them and their families, and we need to start prioritising them so that they can have the prospect of a healthy childhood.
Experts warn that long waits are particularly harmful for youngsters as it can impair their mental and physical development at a critical time of life
‘It’s important to bear in mind that these are just the number on the list who are recorded and counted.
‘There are a series of hidden waiting times for community care.
‘Paediatricians are working extremely hard to see as many children and young people as possible but the pandemic has carried in its wake a burden of young need that we cannot address.
‘Ministers must now take urgent steps to prioritise their care and capitalise on every opportunity to innovate and transform care.’
Dr Kingdon continued: ‘If the government is serious about levelling up Britain and giving every child the best start in life, we need a proper response including a child health action plan, combined with a clear plan to ensure we have a strong child health workforce to provide the right care for those at the start of their lives.
‘This is the mark of any decent society.
‘Many children and young people have suffered a great deal as a result of the impact of successive lockdowns and should not be expected to wait for months and years to receive treatments which could have a lasting impact on their lives.’
The College warned the consequences of delaying treatment can be ‘stark’ for young patients and their families.
It revealed one child with vulnerable breathing and spinal scoliosis deteriorated through the pandemic to the point she could no longer sit down or go to school.
She required major surgery but this was cancelled four times, setting back her education and forcing her parents to take time off work.