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Number of patients waiting more than 18 weeks for NHS treatment at highest in over a decade

12 Sep 2019

The Royal College of Surgeons of England (RCS) has said it is vital the government’s consultation on the pensions issue that has been exacerbating NHS waiting times delivers a solution before the busy winter period starts. The RCS’s comments come as the number of patients waiting more than 18 weeks for NHS treatment reached its highest in over a decade (since May 2008) at over 620,000.  

NHS England’s ‘referral to treatment’ statistics for July 2019, published today, show that the number of patients waiting more than 18 weeks to start planned treatment was 620,454.  Only 85.8% were seen within 18 weeks, missing the government’s target of 92% yet again. By comparison, the number of patients waiting longer than 18 weeks for planned treatment in July 2018, was 504,337.  At that time, 87.8% of patients were seen within 18 weeks. 

In July 2019, more than 229,221 patients waited over 6 months to start treatment, and almost 38,401 waited over 9 months. There were 1,032 patients waiting longer than a year in July 2019, an improvement on July 2018 when there were 3,464 patients waiting over a year. The waiting list size is estimated to be at 4.37 million by NHS England. 

The data published today also shows that in August 2019, 78.3% of patients at major A&E departments (‘type 1 units’) were treated within four hours. This figure excludes those units that are piloting NHS England’s new urgent and emergency care proposals as part of the ongoing clinical review of NHS access standards. The total number of A&E attendances at major units was 1,324,066 in August 2019, compared to 1,252,767 in August 2018.

Professor Derek Alderson, President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England said: 

“More than 620,000 people had to wait over 18 weeks to start consultant-led hospital treatment in July 2019. This is the highest number since May 2008 and does not bode well for the busy winter months ahead. It’s clear that hospitals are no longer experiencing the breathing room that the quieter summer months once gave. The record high temperatures the UK experienced in July will undoubtedly have sent more people to A&E, and created a knock-on effect for planned operations.   

“With so many people waiting so long for treatment, it makes no sense to have a pensions system that discourages doctors from working full shifts. If the NHS is to have any chance of coping over the busy months to come, it’s absolutely vital the government’s consultation on increased flexibility for senior clinicians in the NHS Pension Scheme delivers a solution before winter pressures set in. 

“In addition, the RCS continues to call for a 5-year plan, including increased bed capacity and staffing resources, to get waiting lists back down to acceptable levels in the longer term.” 


Notes to editors

1. Full data is available here:

2. 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.

3. For more information, please contact the RCS press office: telephone: 020 7869 6047; email:; out-of-hours media enquiries: 07966 486832.

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