The size of the country's waiting list has been described as "stomach-churning" by the Royal College of Surgeons – which warned it will take years to clear.
NHS statistics show 56,472 patients were listed as waiting for elective operations or treatment at the University Hospitals of North Midlands (UHNM) Trust at the end of March – up from 53,180 at the end of February. It was also up from 47,384 the year before – and the highest figure for the month of March since comparable records began in 2012.
Meanwhile, 50,178 patients were waiting at the Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust at the end of March – up from 48,933 at the end of February. It was also up from 38,603 the year before and the highest figure for the month of March since comparable records began in 2012.
At the Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust, 44,140 patients were waiting – up from 42,169 at the end of February. It was also up from 39,142 the year before and the highest figure for the month of March since comparable records began in 2012.
The statistics show that 22,098 patients were listed as waiting for elective operations or treatment at the Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust at the end of March – up from 21,001 at the end of February. It was also up from 18,398 the year before and the highest figure for the month of March since comparable records began in 2012.
And, 20,940 patients were listed as waiting at Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust at the end of March – up from 20,097 at the end of February. It was also up from 14,849 the year before.
Paul Bytheway, UHNM chief operating officer, said: “Just like the rest of the NHS, our number one priority throughout the pandemic has been ensuring that all those who need urgent care, not just those with Covid-19, have been able to get it when they need it. We have continued to provide all urgent care and cancer operations where we have safely been able to do so.
“Since the second surge of Covid-19 we have been increasing services gradually and as of last week all our theatres at both Royal Stoke University Hospital and County Hospital, Stafford were being used to their full capacity and we will continue to do as much as we can to ensure our patients have no further delays.
“We obviously apologise to those who have had to wait for their procedures but would like to reassure them that we are doing all we can to ensure their speedy treatment and care.”
Diane Wake, chief executive of the Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust and local system lead for elective care for the Black Country NHS trusts, said: "The NHS is ahead of progress in getting back to its pre-pandemic levels for routine care across the country, including elective procedures and diagnostics.
"Across the Black Country and West Birmingham our staff have worked tirelessly to respond to the pandemic, treating almost 22,000 Covid-19 patients in our hospitals. During this time urgent operations and treatments have continued, and while the additional Covid safety measures deployed have had some impact on elective procedures, only 26 per cent more people are on our waiting lists now than in March 2020.
"We want to go even further and faster on this recovery and are working hard to continue to reduce waiting lists, prioritising those who are in most need. In March 2021, local hospitals carried out 5,073 inpatient procedures, as well as 22,649 outpatient appointments including day case procedures and diagnostics. We encourage anyone with a worrying symptom to come forward: the NHS is open and here for you."
Across England, the number of people waiting to start hospital treatment rose to 4.95 million – the highest total since records began in August 2007.
The Royal College of Surgeons said the task ahead for NHS workers was vast following an "unimaginably difficult year".
Vice president Tim Mitchell said: “With the number of Covid-19 patients in hospital at the lowest it has been since September last year, the recovery of planned surgery is fortunately now well underway.
"Still, any prospect of chiselling down the waiting list, which is now five million people, is premature, because new patients are presenting daily.
"The task ahead is vast and many of the staff that support surgeons to operate, anaesthetists and nurses, are running on fumes after an unimaginably difficult year helping out on Covid-19 wards.”