More patients are stuck on NHS waiting lists across the North East than a year ago - despite Rishi Sunak promising to cut the backlog.

In January 2023 Prime Minister Sunak made five pledges to the British public – including a promise that "NHS waiting lists will fall and people will get the care they need more quickly".

But across the region in January, a year on from the pledge, more than 9,500 more people were stuck on waiting lists than when the PM made the promise.

NHS England figures show 325,789 patients were waiting for non-urgent elective operations or treatment at the seven main hospital trusts across the North East at the end of January – up from 316,219 a year ago.

Of those, 6,671 had been waiting for longer than a year, and more than 350 had been waiting a year-and-a-half.

Mr Sunak admitted to failing to keep the pledge in an interview with TalkTV in February.

The Northern Echo: Rishi Sunak on a visit to Sunderland last week.Rishi Sunak on a visit to Sunderland last week. (Image: PA)

In better news for the PM, January saw the fourth consecutive month-on-month fall across England - although 250,000 more patients were waiting than in January last year.

Nationally, 6.32 million patients were waiting for 7.58 million treatments at the end of January.

Alex Cunningham, Labour MP for Stockton North where the waiting list has increased by 2,000 at the North Tees trust, said the figures highlighted Government’s failings.

The Northern Echo: Alex Cunningham MP.Alex Cunningham MP. (Image: Northern Echo)

He told The Northern Echo: “Sadly the Government’s own figures demonstrate very clearly that waiting times are not coming down in line with the Prime Minister’s promises.

“Our hospital staff do a tremendous job in the most difficult of circumstances but they can only deliver improvements if they have sufficient doctors, nurses, midwives and a host of other staff as well as 21st century facilities in which to deliver their services.  

“Our North East trusts are responsible for dealing with some of the greatest health inequalities in the country but have been left in a backwater, some like North Tees, existing in dated and unfit buildings to deliver 21st century services.  

“Until the Government recognises the need for substantial action across the North East, sadly those inequalities and waiting lists can only get worse.”

Only two NHS trusts in the North East - County Durham and Darlington, and Gateshead – saw their waiting lists fall.

Darlington Conservative MP Peter Gibson said: “The Government is committed to cutting the waiting lists along with growing the economy, stopping the boats, reducing the debt and halving inflation.

The Northern Echo: Peter Gibson MP.Peter Gibson MP. (Image: The Northern Echo)

“We are seeing record investment in the NHS, record doctors, record nurses, diagnostic hubs rolled out an additional £6Bn announced in the budget. We need to see an end to the doctors' strike which will have a massive positive impact on the waiting lists, and I do believe that there is more scope locally to patients being offered more choice of providers to get treatment.

Durham Labour MP Mary Kelly Foy, who last week revealed she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, added: "Here are more statistics which shine a light on the damage that the NHS has suffered under the watch of the Conservatives over the last 14 years.

"It is clear that the Prime Minister has broken one of his signature pledges to reduce NHS waiting times, with NHS England data showing more people in the North East are waiting for elective surgery than last year.

"Many NHS staff have seen substantial pay cuts in real terms under Conservative governments and despite health leaders warning Sunak that allowing industrial disputes to continue would make delivering his pledge all but impossible, he and his ministers refused to offer better pay deals to hardworking staff and instead blamed striking workers for his failure.

"It is beyond time for the Government to make proper pay offers to all NHS staff, bringing an end to industrial action so focus can shift to bringing down waiting lists.

"Where Sunak has failed, Labour will succeed in getting the NHS back on its feet. We did it before and we will do it again.”

Here’s how waiting lists have changed at our hospitals:

County Durham and Darlington – 2023: 46,491, 2024: 43,790

Gateshead – 2023: 12,750, 2024: 12,360

Newcastle – 2023: 99,691, 2024: 100,585

Northumbria – 2023: 33,171, 2024: 33,571

North Tees – 2023: 19,315, 2024: 21,954

South Tees – 2023: 49,394, 2024: 52,641

Sunderland and South Tyneside – 2023: 55,407, 2024: 60,888

Last week Health Secretary Victoria Atkins said the Government’s "commitment to cutting waiting times is unwavering".

She added: "This has been achieved despite disruptive strikes and record winter pressures on our NHS services."

Meanwhile, shadow health secretary Wes Streeting accused the Government of having "broken every pledge" on NHS waits.

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Professor Sir Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, said that "demand for NHS services across the country remains high".

He said: "It is testament to the hard work of staff and the measures in our elective recovery plan that despite the longest period of industrial action in NHS history in January, with one in five days affected, staff still managed to bring the waiting list down."

He added that staff are using new technologies to bring down the longest waits for patients.