More than 50,000 patients were on the NHS waiting list for routine treatment at East Suffolk and North Essex Trust in March, figures reveal.

The Royal College of Surgeons described the size of the country's waiting list as "stomach-churning", adding it will take many years to deal with the backlog.

NHS statistics show 54,406 patients were listed as waiting for elective operations or treatment at East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust at the end of March, down from 55,312 at the end of February.

It was also up from 53,966 the year before.

Across England the number of people waiting to start hospital treatment rose to 4.95 million – the highest total since records began in August 2007.

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.

But the figures also show 4,013 patients on waiting lists at East Suffolk and North Essex Trust at the end of March had been waiting for at least a year – 7% of all those on the waiting list.

The number of people waiting this long across England has risen to 436,100, up from 387,900 the month before and a record for any calendar month since August 2007.

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.