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The Government must renew its commitment to reducing NHS waiting times, President of Royal College of Surgeons says

10 Jan 2019

The President of the Royal College of Surgeons has called on the Government to renew its efforts to reduce waiting times, as latest figures suggest the NHS will likely fail to meet a key goal set out in NHS England’s annual planning guidance. This stipulated that NHS commissioners and providers should aim for their Referral to Treatment (RTT) waiting list to be no higher in March 2019 than in March 2018 and, where possible, it should be reduced.  

NHS England’s ‘Referral to Treatment’ (RTT) statistics for November 2018 show that there were 4.15 million patients on the waiting list. By comparison, there were 3.8 million patients waiting for planned treatment in March 2018. Traditionally, the number of patients on the waiting list increases between November-March, so today’s data signals that the NHS will fail to meet the goal set by NHS England as the total number on the waiting list in March 2019 is likely to exceed that for the same period last year.

The data published today also shows that the number of patients waiting more than 18 weeks to start planned treatment in November 2018 was 527,677.  Only 87.3 % were seen within 18 weeks, meaning the government’s 92% target has not been met in almost three years - since February 2016. By comparison, the number of patients waiting longer than 18 weeks for planned treatment in November 2017, was 391,617.  

The data published today shows an improvement in waits for A&E in December when compared to the same time the previous year. In December 2018, 86.4% of patients were seen in four hours, compared to 85% in December 2017.  

Commenting on the data, Professor Derek Alderson, President of the Royal College of Surgeons, said:

“Surgery can dramatically improve a person’s quality of life and it is very distressing for patients who are in pain, or unable to carry daily tasks, if they have to wait exceptionally long treatment. 

“Unfortunately waiting times in England have steadily slipped since their low in 2012/13 and the number of patients waiting more than 18 weeks for consultant-led NHS treatment in England, including surgical operations, exceeded half a million in the past year.

“There is much to applaud in the Government’s Long Term Plan for the NHS, but worryingly, it does not include a clear timeline for meeting the 18-week target for operations and planned treatment. In fact there is little emphasis at all on reducing waiting times for patients, except for those waiting longer than a year. There is a risk this will lead to much greater variation in waiting times for patients across the country.

“While we accept that some changes to targets for planned treatment may be sensible, especially those that would prioritise patients in greater clinical need, we could not support any revisions that leave patients in doubt as to how quickly they will be seen.

“The Government must renew its commitment to reducing waiting times and ensuring patients are seen quickly.”

Notes to editors

1. Full data is available here:

2. NHS England’s Planning Guidance can be read here:

3. The NHS Long Term Plan can be read here:

4. The Royal College of Surgeons of England is a professional membership organisation and registered charity, which exists to advance surgical standards and improve patient care.

5. For more information, please contact the Press Office:

  Telephone: 020 7869 6047
Out-of-hours media enquiries: 07966 486832


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