The number of patients waiting more than a year for routine treatment at Great Western Hospitals Trust has rocketed to a record high, new figures reveal.

The King’s Fund think tank says there is a mountain to climb to tackle delays caused by Covid-19 after NHS data showed more than 100,000 people across England had been waiting at least a year for non-urgent care – the most for more than a decade.

NHS statistics show 998 patients were on the waiting list for 52 weeks or more for elective operations or treatment at Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust at the end of August.

And the trust has said it won’t be able to clear that number any time soon.

It was the highest monthly figure since comparable local records began in 2011 – the previous August, no patients had been delayed as long.

According to NHS rules, patients referred for non-urgent consultant-led elective care should start treatment within 18 weeks.

Across England, the number of people waiting a year or more hit 111,000, a near tenfold increase from 1,236 in August 2019 and the highest figure since 2008.

Of the 23,748 patients waiting for treatment at Great Western Hospitals Trust at the end of August, 50 per cent had been doing so for more than the 18-week window.

NHS trusts are expected to make sure no more than eight per cent of patients are left waiting beyond the 18-week maximum target.

In a statement the trust said: “At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, we cancelled most of our routine and non-urgent activity to reduce footfall in the hospital and to ensure we had enough staff and bed capacity to care for every patient admitted with coronavirus.

“We understood the impact that cancelling this activity would have on a large number of patients, so we moved some services to another location in Swindon so that we could continue offering some treatment throughout the pandemic.

“We continue to be prepared to care for patients with Covid-19, particularly given the recent increase in the number of cases.

“This, together with social distancing rules to keep everyone safe, means we simply have less capacity than before the pandemic. For example, we have 30 per cent less beds and five fewer operating theatres now; all of which impacts on the numbers of patients that can be treated.

“This means we will not be able to clear our backlog of routine patients waiting more than 52 weeks for some time unfortunately.

“But we continue to do everything we can to see as many patients as we can, safely, and will increase the number of virtual appointments that take place where it is appropriate to do so.

It added: “Patients have a really important role to play too. We ask that patients attend their appointments or let us know if they cannot attend so we can give their appointment to somebody else, and families and carers can help by ensuring patients are ready to leave hospital when it’s the right time for them to do so.”

Nationally, 46 per cent of the 4.2 million people waiting at the end of the month had overshot the target time, although this was an improvement on 53 per cent in July.

Siva Anandaciva, chief analyst at The King’s Fund believes a combination of the huge treatment backlog, rising Covid-19 hospital admissions, an expected winter surge in demand on services and exhausted and overstretched staff means NHS leaders are “braced for a torrid winter”.

He said: “NHS staff are working hard to restore services and find innovative new ways to care for patients. But as these figures show, there is a mountain to climb before waits for routine NHS care return to pre-pandemic levels.

He said: “It now seems unlikely that the highly ambitious targets set for the recovery of NHS performance over autumn will be met, and it is important to be honest with patients and the public about how long people are likely to have to wait for care.

“Much will therefore depend on whether the Government can deliver increased capacity and improvements to the testing system to enable NHS and social care staff to be regularly tested for Covid.”