The number of patients waiting to have treatment in hospitals across Kent has increased by a third in the last year.
Of the 146,072 patients waiting at the end of September – according to the latest NHS figures – some 5,544 people (3.8%) have been on the list for more than a year since their referral to hospital.
Waiting lists have increased by 32.1% with an additional 35,528 patients joining waiting lists across Kent as hospitals come under increasing pressure to deal with backlogs in numbers during the pandemic.
In comparison, the number of people waiting in September 2020 for elective treatment from the county's hospitals stood at 110,544.
The trust with the highest increase was Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust (MTW) which saw 34.3% more patients joining the waiting list bringing its total to 37,174.
East Kent Hospitals University Foundation NHS Trust (EKHUFT) – one of England's largest hospital trusts – now has 62,544 patients waiting, an increase of 33.7% compared to September 2020.
Of those, some 4,735 (7.5%) have been waiting longer than 12 months – the highest rate in the county.
The next highest, Dartford and Gravesham, has 539 patients which is equal to 2.7% of its total 19,370.
Medway NHS Foundation Trust has 228 patients waiting more than a year out of its 26,984 total (0.8%) and MTW have 42, a rate of just 0.11%.
Each trust in Kent has seen increases in the number of patients waiting with the overall level now standing at almost one in 10 of the county's population.
Dartford and Gravesham and Medway trusts saw similar rises over the past 12 months at 28.3% and 28.5%, respectively.
The government has set a target of trusts treating 92% of its patients within 18 weeks but none of the Kent hospital trusts are meeting that level, the data shows.
The best performing trust is MTW which saw 73.1% of patients within the timeframe and Dartford and Gravesham managed 70.2%.
But EKHUFT was the worst with 38,780 patients (62%) treated within 18 weeks and Medway's 18,092 people equal to a rate of 67%.
The average across the Kent trusts for patients being treated within 18 weeks stands at 97,638 – a rate of 66.8%.
Meanwhile, average waiting times across the county are currently at 11.5 weeks.
Patients under East Kent Hospitals have the longest average wait at 13.1 weeks while Dartford and Gravesham is the quickest at 9.9 weeks per patient.
Labour says the NHS is short of 100,000 staff including 7,000 doctors and 40,000 nurses and the government has failed to address issues with recruiting, training and retaining staff for several years.
Cllr Teresa Murray (Lab), opposition spokesman for health at Medway Council, said: "Waiting lists in Medway are too long and getting longer. That’s not just a statistic – it’s local people living with real pain and risk longer than they should.
"I know our hospital is prioritising those who have been waiting the longest but while that’s happening the list is building up.
"This isn’t just about Covid – key targets haven’t been met across the country for years. From waiting lists to A&E to getting an appointment with your local GP, for local people our health service is going backwards.
"The government is hiding behind the initial successes of the vaccination programme instead of facing up to the NHS crisis.
"Austerity deliberately starved the NHS of resources and what’s coming through now is just sticking plaster over the funding gaps leaving staff overstretched and undervalued.
"The longer people wait for treatment the less likely it is that they will be able to remain independent which costs more in the long run than timely, effective treatment."
Gurjit Mahil, deputy chief executive at Medway NHS Foundation Trust, said: "Caring for Covid-19 inpatients has had an inevitable impact on the health service’s ability to deliver other care for less urgent conditions, but our services have continued to be available for patients who needed them and staff are working flat out to get things back to pre-Covid levels.
"The longer people wait for treatment the less likely it is that they will be able to remain independent..."
"By holding additional clinics and using other ways to work effectively without compromising infection control and patient care, we have reduced the number of patients who waited longer than 52 weeks from nearly 700 in March to around 200 last month."
Meanwhile, it has also emerged accident and emergency departments across Kent saw a patient every 48 seconds last month as trusts grapple with 1,000 staff members currently on sick leave.
"Caring for Covid-19 inpatients has had an inevitable impact on the health service’s ability to deliver other care for less urgent conditions..."
The number of people with Covid in Kent’s hospitals has fallen for two weeks running, and last Tuesday stood at 160.
But with Covid cases rising rapidly across the county, it is feared patient numbers could spike in the run-up to Christmas.
Kent’s infection rate currently stands at 449 weekly cases per 100,000 people - up 23% and the highest it has been since January.
It is also above the national average of 421.
Cases are rising fastest in Maidstone- up 40% on the week - but it is Sevenoaks which has the highest rate, at 574.
In fact, eight of Kent’s 12 districts, plus Medway, currently have a rate higher than England’s.
Only in Dartford are cases falling, by 5%.