FEWER patients were waiting for routine treatment at Shropshire Community Health Trust in March, despite the backlog rising to a record level nationally.

NHS statistics show 2,839 patients were on the waiting list for non-urgent treatment under the care of a consultant at Shropshire Community Health NHS Trust at the end of March.

This was up from 2,473 at the end of February, but down from March 2020 when there were 4,748 waiting.

Across England, 5 million people were waiting for treatment at this time – the highest number since records began in August 2007.

That figure was 4.7 million at the end of February.

The Royal College of Surgeons said the task ahead for NHS workers was vast following an "unimaginably difficult year".

Vice president Tim Mitchell said: “With the number of Covid-19 patients in hospital at the lowest it has been since September last year, the recovery of planned surgery is fortunately now well underway.

"Still, any prospect of chiselling down the waiting list, which is now 5 million people, is premature, because new patients are presenting daily.

"The task ahead is vast and many of the staff that support surgeons to operate, anaesthetists and nurses, are running on fumes after an unimaginably difficult year helping out on Covid-19 wards.”

NHS rules state that patients referred for non-urgent treatments under the care of a consultant should start treatment within 18 weeks.

The number of people waiting at least a year for treatment across England has risen to 436,100 – the highest monthly figure since August 2007.

At Shropshire Community Health Trust, 71 patients had been waiting this long as of the end of March.

The figures were released on the same day the NHS announced it will spend £160 million on an initiative to find new ways of tackling the vast backlog of care.

Money will be given to hospitals for mobile scanning trucks, carry out surgery in evenings and at weekends and to provide "virtual wards" where patients can be continually monitored while outside hospital.

Amanda Pritchard, NHS chief operating officer, said: "The additional support announced today will help us create a blueprint for continuing that progress over summer and beyond, in a way that doesn’t heap extra pressure on staff, so that as many people as possible benefit from the world-class care the NHS provides.”

The investment has been welcomed by the NHS Confederation, which represents organisations in the health service.

But Danny Mortimer, chief executive of the body, said there were "bigger, bolder" moves the Government needed like providing more capital funding to NHS trusts to take to help with demand.