Health officials have pledged to end two-year waits for NHS treatment as they deal with record waiting lists.
NHS recovery plans promise to eliminate such waits by March, and say trusts must not allow the numbers waiting more than a year for treatment to increase.
More than 5.5 million people are now on waiting lists – a record high, including thousands waiting more than two years.
Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, has raised fears lists could reach 13 million as more people come forward for help they should have received during the pandemic.
The new NHS guidance says patients being discharged from hospital should get more help, including four-week packages of care so they can leave as soon as they are medically ready.
The plans come alongside a warning that flu levels could be 50 per cent higher than usual this winter.
NHS urges public to play its part
In June, the NHS published detailed data on waiting times of more than a year for the first time, showing 2,722 people waiting at least two years.
Latest figures for July show that since then the number has tripled, to around 7,800.
The NHS statistics show 293,000 people waiting more than a year for elective care, down from a record of 436,000 in March.
The NHS is urging the public to play their part by booking their booster vaccine or their flu vaccine as soon as they are invited to ensure they get extra protection ahead of winter.
‘This could be the NHS’ toughest winter yet’
Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director for the NHS in England, said: “NHS staff pulled out all the stops over the summer, making maximum use of the resources made available getting jabs into arms, delivering millions more tests, checks, treatments and operations than they did last year, all while caring for seriously ill Covid patients and almost record levels of patients in A&E.
“With more patients expected to come forward for care in the coming months and flu cases also expected to be high, this could be the NHS’ toughest winter yet, and staff will continue to work around the clock to make the best possible use of government funding so patients receive care as quickly as possible.
“Our plan for the next six months of the year will mean hospitals continue to do as many elective procedures as possible alongside dealing with this expected spike in winter demand, so I urge anyone who needs the NHS to come forward, including through NHS 111 Online, so that staff can help you with the best option for your care.”