The number of people waiting more than two years for routine surgery in England has fallen to less than 200 from 22,500 at the start of the year, according to NHS figures.
This does not include the more than 2,500 complex cases or cases that opted not to travel to expedite processing.
NHS England says it has taken the first steps towards eliminating the backlog caused by the coronavirus.
But a record 6.6 million people are still waiting for hospital treatment.
Health experts say there is still a big mountain to climb to reduce the number of people waiting more than a year, currently around 400,000. And winter could bring more delays and stress.
Eliminating the 18-month wait (currently affecting about 50,000 people) by April 2023 is next on the government’s agenda.
The number of people waiting for regular hospital treatment has soared across the UK over the past two years as surgeries were cancelled to free up beds for Covid-19 patients.
The situation has led to people borrowing thousands of pounds for private treatment.
To reduce the backlog, patients were paid for travel and accommodation to travel to another part of the country for treatment.
In the UK, large numbers of patients are sent to private hospitals for surgery, while community diagnostic centres have been established to carry out thousands of tests and analyses.
NHS England has pledged to “virtually eradicate” the list of people waiting more than two years for treatment by the end of July.
That has now dwindled to 168 patients, most of whom live in the south-west – the region most affected by Covid staff absenteeism and pressure on healthcare services.
Sulis Hospital Bath is treating patients from seven local hospitals in the region – with more than 1,100 new patients added since September.
Extended operating times, makeshift operating rooms, and strong relationships with local trusts have all contributed to the increase.
The private hospital, now owned by a local NHS trust, plans to take in more people from further afield for a variety of plastic and eye surgeries.
“It’s a tough job,” said clinical director and consultant Gavin Jennings.
He said the Omicron Covid variant, initially discovered in South Africa, had hit hospitals quite a bit, affecting staffing levels and causing surgeries to be cancelled.
“With people waiting longer than usual, some of these cases are now more complicated and symptoms may have worsened,” Jennings said.
“That’s why a quick recovery from Covid is necessary. »
In addition to the 22,500 people who waited two years or more at the beginning of the year, 43,500 people who will wait two years or more by the end of July have also been treated, NHS England said.
Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of NHS England, said the health service continued to reform the way it delivered care, “using innovative technologies and employing pioneering technologies such as robotic surgery”.
But there is now a high demand warning for other services.
Saffron Cordery, acting chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents hospital trusts, told the BBC: “There is still a long way to go to address the backlog in mental health, community and hospital care, and to ease the pressure on ambulance services.”
Reducing wait times for cancer diagnoses and eliminating the 78-week wait is now a priority, she said, adding that progress could be “threatened” if the government does not increase investment in the NHS.
On the possible strike of nurses over wages, Ms Cordery said: “Nobody wants to see strike action, but what we have to remember is that we have a hard-working workforce. Two and a half years.”, and is now being asked to Go the extra mile to reduce those waiting lists. »
Nigel Edwards, chief executive of The Nuffield Trust, an independent health think tank, said: “It’s a remarkable achievement – but like getting to base camp, there’s a mountain to climb as far as people go. .They waited more than a year…and more than 78 weeks, which is much larger than the two-year wait figure.»
Health and Social Care Minister Steve Barclay said: “We are working with the NHS to get our health system back to its best by increasing the health workforce, opening new community diagnostic and surgical centres across the country and investing in innovative technologies .. ensuring patients get the treatment they need while saving staff time. »
Elsewhere in the UK, efforts are continuing to reduce the longest waiting times.
The Welsh Government said the number of patients with the longest wait times had fallen over the past two months due to increased staff and equipment and the addition of new facilities.
In Scotland, more than 10,000 people waited more than two years in June, up from 648 last year.
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said they had introduced new targets to address the backlog and “enhanced flexibility for health boards and clinicians to manage waiting lists, with a focus on eliminating long waits, and continuing to treat the most clinically significant patients.” emergency patients”.
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