The NHS waiting list has fallen for the first time since the start of the pandemic while hospitals dealt with the highest ever number of A&E attendances last month, new figures show today.

Thanks to the efforts of staff, elective care was delivered for 70,000 more patients in November compared to the same month before the pandemic, as the waiting list dropped by almost 30,000 compared to last month. (27,012 patients).

As the NHS continues to deliver on the most ambitious catch-up programme in its history, a record number of tests and checks were delivered by staff in November (2,172,150 diagnostic tests in November 2022 – up from 2,055,449 in October 2022).

Record numbers of people were also checked and started treatment for cancer during November 2022, with more than nine in 10 people starting within a month.

The NHS has today written to trusts asking them to book in all remaining patients waiting more than 18 months for their appointment or treatment by the end of March, ahead of the next elective recovery ambition at the end of April.

Progress on the COVID-19 backlog comes as the full impact of the so called ‘twindemic’ was laid bare, with a record number of patients attending A&E in December (2,283,196).

The most serious emergency (category one) ambulance call outs in December were also the highest on record (101,099) – and almost a fifth higher than the previous record (85,392). While call handlers answered more 999 calls in December 2022 than ever before (1,014,489) – up one fifth compared to pre-pandemic. (December 2019 – 845,524).

NHS staff contended with record levels of respiratory illness with 7,273 beds taken up by Covid on average and 2,925 taken up by flu patients in December. (Compared to 33 flu beds and to 7,055 Covid beds in December 2021).

Bed occupancy was high throughout December, with more than nine in 10 beds occupied and an average of 13,439 beds a day taken up by patients medically fit for discharge – up almost a third on the previous year (Dec 2021 – 10,295).

Separate weekly data showed pressures on hospitals remain high with bed occupancy in the week ending 8 January the highest ever recorded as more than 14,000 beds were taken up each day by patients who were medically fit for discharge – also the highest on record.

The NHS has put in extensive plans to deal with additional demand for winter, with millions of vaccinations delivered, more than 40 24/7 care system control centres live across the country,  respiratory hubs, more beds and call handlers as well as community fall services.

NHS National Medical Director, Professor Sir Stephen Powis, said: “As staff responded to record A&E attendances, 999 calls and emergency ambulance call outs as the ‘twindemic’ lead to unprecedented levels of respiratory illness in hospital, they also continued to deliver for patients with more people than ever before receiving diagnostic tests and cancer treatment.

“These figures show just how hard our staff are working, not only in the face of extreme pressure but also in bringing down the Covid backlogs and checking more people for cancer than ever before in one month.

“The NHS will keep its foot on the accelerator to continue to make progress on the Covid backlog and hospitals have today been asked to ensure anyone waiting longer than 18 months has their treatment booked in before March.

“While services continue to be pressured, it’s important the public continue to play their part by using the best services for their care – using 999 in an emergency and otherwise using 111 online and by getting their vaccinations if eligible.”

The health service is also using the latest technology to ease demand on hospitals, with thousands of virtual ward beds open last month meaning people can receive specialist care from the comfort of their own homes, whole hospital beds are freed up for those who need them most.

Anyone needing healthcare advice is asked to use NHS 111 online in the first instance and call 999 in an emergency as usual.