Boris Johnson has said he has “no doubt” a backlog of 4.7 million people waiting to start NHS treatment can be tackled.

NHS England data shows the number of people waiting to begin hospital treatment by the end of February 2021 has risen to its highest since records began in 2007.

The number of people waiting more than 52 weeks to start treatment was at 387,885 in February 2021, a figure not reached since December 2007.

In February 2020, that number was at just 1,613.

Intensive care unit at Whiston Hospital in Merseyside
Image: January and February were the busiest times for hospitals with COVID patients

The number of people admitted for routine hospital treatment was down by 47% in February compared with a year earlier – with 152,642 admitted in February 2021 and 285,918 in February 2020, which had an extra day as it was a leap year.

In January, the year-on-year decrease was 54% while in December 2020 it dropped by 25%.

Charities and health organisations have warned the COVID-19 pandemic will have a “catastrophic” impact on NHS services.

More from Boris Johnson

The prime minister said the issue is “a real priority” now and the government will ensure the NHS has the funds it needs to tackle the build-up in waiting lists.

“We do need people to take up their appointments and to get the treatment that they need,” he said.

“We’re going to make sure that we give the NHS all the funding that it needs, as we have done throughout the pandemic, to beat the backlog.

“We’re going to do whatever it takes.

“The NHS has done an incredible job so far, I have no doubt they’ll be able to tackle this as well.

He added that the government has pumped an extra £92bn into the NHS this year.

NHS England said staff had delivered nearly two million operations and other elective care this January and February, which was one of the peak hospital periods of the pandemic.

It said about two in five patients who have received hospital treatment for COVID-19 were admitted in those months.

The NHS England data also showed 1.9m elective procedures or support for patients took place during the winter COVID-19 surge, when 2.6m A&E visits were recorded.