FIGURES show St Helens and Knowsley Hospitals Trust has seen a fall in the number of patients facing the longest waits for treatment – despite a warning that the NHS remains in a ‘state of steady crisis’.

As part of an effort to clear the backlog caused by the coronavirus pandemic, NHS England committed in February to ending waits of more than two years, except in cases where the patient wishes to delay their treatment.

New figures show there was just one patient waiting this long for routine treatment at St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust as of July 3 – the latest available data – down from 51 at the end of February.

Across England, the number of patients waiting two years or more fell from a peak of 23,778 in January to 3,548 at the start of July.

Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director for NHS England, said: “These figures show our hardworking teams across the country are making good progress in addressing the Covid backlogs, with record numbers of diagnostic tests and checks in May, and fewer people facing the longest waits for elective care.”

But he warned that more work is needed for the NHS to catch up.

Professor Powis added: “There is no doubt the NHS still faces significant pressures, from rising Covid admissions, thousands of staff absences due to the virus, the heatwave, and record demand for ambulances and emergency care.”

The King’s Fund think tank welcomed the figures, but cautioned the NHS remains in a ‘state of steady crisis’.

Danielle Jefferies, policy analyst at the organisation, said: “Thanks to the huge efforts of NHS staff, significant progress has been made in reducing the number of people facing waits of two years or more for planned hospital treatment.

“But the overall waiting list has continued to grow, and the number of people waiting more than a year is also rising.”

Despite the fall in extremely long waits, the latest available data shows 332,000 patients across England had been on treatment waiting lists for longer than a year as of May – including 1,711 patients at St Helens and Knowsley Hospitals Trust.

Nationally, this was an increase of 21,000 from December.

Ms Jeffries added the new Government will face difficult decisions when it comes to the NHS, and ‘will need to be honest with the public about the standards of care they can expect’.

As of May, 34,986 people were waiting to be treated at St Helens and Knowsley Hospitals Trust – with a record 6.6 million people waiting across England as a whole.

Minister of state for health Maria Caulfield called the figures ‘great news’.