The number of NHS patients waiting longer than the 18-week target for elective surgery has risen by nearly a third in a year, according to the latest performance figures from NHS England.

Some 550,000 patients waited beyond the RTT target for planned procedures at the end of September –  up from 418,000 for the same period last year.

Patients waiting more than a year for surgery has increased by over 75% in the last 12 months to reach 3,156 patients at the end of September, an increase on 1,778 in September 2017.

The government’s target of ensuring that 92% of patients wait no longer than 18 weeks for elective procedures has not been met since February 2016.

Earlier in the week, several leading health bodies – including the Royal College of Surgeons and the Patients Association – called for the government to prioritise cutting elective surgery waiting times in a letter to Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock.

‘These latest figures demonstrate that the government is losing the battle to make ‘significant inroads’ into elective care waiting lists which they committed to in last year’s Autumn Budget,’ said NHS Partners Network chief executive David Hare.

‘It is essential that investment urgently gets to the front line and that the significant spare capacity in the independent sector is utilised by local areas this winter to ensure patients can access the fastest possible care, including through exercising their right to choose the best care provider for them.’

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, added: ‘Patients rightly expect shorter waiting lists but the NHS cannot keep pace with the demands on it and before long the extra money which has been promised for the NHS will be spent many times over.

‘’The truth is we face some tough choices and this is a service that cannot do everything. Our biggest threat at the moment is raised expectations.

‘It seems likely we are about to face yet another difficult winter and the reality is come winter, spring, summer, or autumn, the NHS has not been able to meet key performance targets since 2015.

‘We need to start this debate with some realism about what the NHS can and cannot do,’ he added.