Labour is calling for NHS staff to take weekly tests for coronavirus to help clear hospital waiting list backlogs.
Analysis shows a big increase in how long patients are having to wait for important diagnostic investigations.
Data from NHS England and shared by Labour revealed that of the 840,742 people currently waiting for diagnostic tests, more than half of those – 468,622 – have been waiting more than six weeks.
In February, before the start of the pandemic, fewer than three per cent of people were waiting for six weeks for such tests.
The number of people waiting 42 days for a flexible sigmoidoscopy, a procedure used to detect bowel cancer, has soared by 722 per cent, according to the figures.
It shows that a six-week wait for cystoscopy, used to detect bladder cancer, has increased by 545 per cent, becoming the norm for 8,190 people in April – up from 1,270 in February.
NHS England stats for the period between February and April, also show that an additional 70,000 people, up from 5,733, are experiencing month-and-a-half long waits for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), used to detect tumours throughout the body.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth weekly coronavirus testing should be introduced to check whether NHS staff were asymptomatic.
He said: “Ministers tell us the NHS has ‘coped’ through the Covid-19 peak but that was on the back of cancelled operations, delayed scans and diagnostic tests.
“Estimates suggest two million people are waiting for cancer screening, tests or treatment and that 1,600 cases of cancer are currently left undiagnosed every month.
The tireless work of the NHS heroes who risk their lives to help others is one of the shining beacons of the coronavirus pandemic.
The dedication, selflessness and determination to overcome displayed by NHS staff since this dreadful virus took hold in the UK is celebrated and cherished by so many.
If you want to help show your gratitude, here are some simple things you can do, using our Thanks A Million website www.thanksamillionnhs.co.uk
1. Log on to www.thanksamillionnhs.co.uk and follow a few simple steps to say thank you by sending a heart and a message of support to NHS workers in your area. It’s free and takes moments. You can also search and read the wonderful messages of love sent by others in your community in the Local Messages section and if you’re an NHS worker, you’ll also find a section listing a host of money-saving deals and free offers tailored specifically to help you during this tough time.
2. You can donate money securely and safely to the NHS Charities Together Covid-19 Appeal via the Thanks A Million website – just click the donate button and follow the steps outlined or go direct here. And as a thank you for your generosity, our friends at Funder will enter you into the NHS Heroes Raffle, which has some great prizes. If you win, you can choose to keep our prize, or donate it to an NHS worker.
Funds raised are in aid of the NHS Charities COVID-19 Appeal, set up by NHS Charities Together. Donations will help take care of the immediate well-being of our NHS frontline heroes as well as provide essential longer-term mental health support and 94% of all donations will go to NHS Charities Together’s COVID-19 Appeal. The remaining 6% will cover the cost of payment processing fees.
“It’s now urgent ministers bring forward a plan to tackle the backlog in non-Covid-19 care. A vital component would be the introduction of weekly routine testing of all NHS staff to keep them and patients safe from Covid-19 while receiving treatment.
“We’re calling on MPs to support this motion to tackle the rapidly growing queues of their constituents waiting for treatment.”
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Social Care said the NHS would “continue to routinely and strategically test asymptomatic frontline staff”.
She added: “We recognise the impact this global pandemic has had on NHS services and the challenges faced as we start to restore them in a safe way.
“We will continue to ensure the NHS has everything it needs to provide the high quality care the public expect and we have already provided a significant number of new CT scanners, x-ray machines and portable ultrasounds as part of the response to Covid-19.
“This is on top of £200 million provided for new state of the art diagnostic machines such as MRI machines and cancer screening equipment.”
Labour will highlight the issue in its Opposition Day debate in the House of Commons.