Around one in six households in England are likely to contain someone who is waiting for an NHS operation, according to new analysis.
New NHS data shows there were 4.4 million patients waiting to start treatment at the end of June, a 4.6% rise from the previous June and up more than a fifth since 2016.
The Independent Healthcare Providers Network used council tax data, showing that there are 24,193,880 council tax properties in England, to work out how many households were likely to contain someone stuck on a waiting list.
It is calling on the Government to make better use of spare capacity in the private sector to cut waiting times.
NHS patients have a legal right to choose to be treated in private hospitals, at no extra cost to the NHS, but only half are aware of this option.
David Hare, chief executive of the Independent Healthcare Providers Network said:
“Huge strides were made in the 2000s and early 2010s to ensure that the NHS was meeting its target of 92% of patients treated within 18 weeks, but since then performance has undoubtedly slipped and we are on course for nearly 5.5 million people to be on a waiting list by 2022.
“Clearly that is unacceptable and we need to reverse that.”
The private sector delivers around 500,000 NHS operations every year, according to the NHS Confederation, of which the Independent Healthcare Providers Network is a member.
Mr Hare said research has shown that several hundred thousand procedures more could be taking place in private hospitals, funded by NHS, every year.
He added: “It’s undoubtedly the case that there is capacity in the private sector and it seems unfair on NHS patients where that capacity is available, free at point of use, to not make use of it if they are having to wait excessively long for treatment in the public sector.”
The public have a legal right to be treated within 18 weeks of a GP referral but this target has not been met in over three years.
New NHS data shows that more than 600,000 people are now waiting in excess of 18 weeks.
Mr Hare said this shows that national health care system is now on “red alert” as winter approaches.
He added: “Over the winter period often emergency staff are inundated with emergency patients coming in, that can often squeeze out those planned operations, increasing cancellation rates and growing waiting times, so it does put us on red alert to ensure that there is a plan for winter, there is funding in place … and the NHS and Government in particular has been warned that without action now we are in for a very, very difficult winter.”