MORE than 150,000 patients were waiting for routine treatment at the Mid and South Essex Trust in October, figures show.

A health think tank warns the NHS is under "severe strain" despite some progress in reducing the national backlog.

NHS England figures show 166,411 patients were waiting for non-urgent elective operations or treatment at Mid and South Essex NHS Trust, which runs Southend, Basildon and Broomfield hospitals, at the end of October – down from 191,029 in September, but an increase on 160,536 in October 2022.

Of those, 10,806 (6 per cent) had been waiting for longer than a year.

The median waiting time from referral at an NHS Trust to treatment at the Mid and South Essex Trust was 16 weeks at the end of October – down from 18 weeks in September.

Nationally, 7.7 million people were waiting to start treatment at the end of October.

Nuffield Trust fellow Jessica Morris said: “The slight fall in the number of people waiting for routine NHS treatment is welcome progress. NHS staff got record numbers of patients starting treatment in October, which will have helped finally start to reverse month on month growth of the waiting list.

"While this is good news, it is hard to look past the huge waiting list that remains in place. This drop is only a small fraction (54,000 people), with over 6.4 million people still waiting."

"Overall, the elective waiting list is 370,000 people higher than it was when the prime minister made his pledge to cut long waits at the beginning of the year," she added.

"The reality is that it will take time and a lot of hard work to sustain this momentum, particularly during the difficult winter months to come."

Separate figures show 1.6 million patients in England were waiting for a key diagnostic test in October – the same as in September.

At the Mid and South Essex Trust, 21,693 patients were waiting for one of 13 standard tests, such as an MRI scan, non-obstetric ultrasound or gastroscopy at this time.

Of them, 5,691 (26 per cent) had been waiting for at least six weeks.

Other figures show cancer patients at the Mid and South Essex Trust are not being seen quickly enough.

The NHS states 85 per cent of cancer patients with an urgent referral should start treatment within 62 days.

But NHS England data shows just 43 per cent of cancer patients urgently referred to the Mid and South Essex Trust in October began treatment within two months of their referral.

That was down from 47 per cent in September, but up from 34 per cent in October 2022.

Professor Pat Price, co-founder of the #CatchUpWithCancer campaign, said: "Despite the recent changes to cancer waiting times and focus on diagnosis, we are in a devastating cancer care rut."

The organisation is urging the health secretary to perform a "handbrake turn" on cancer.

"That means a dedicated radical new cancer plan, with a focus on tackling treatment delays and a monumental effort to get investment to frontline services," Professor Price added.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak defended his Government's record on healthcare on Thursday.

He said: "We’ve made progress first and foremost on the longest waiters.

"We’ve practically eliminated the number of people waiting one-and-a-half years earlier this year, to people waiting two years last year, and we were making good progress tackling the backlog."

He expressed disappointment at threats of further industrial action from junior doctors.