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NHS planned treatment list sees some improvement but too many patients are still waiting

11 Apr 2019

RCS calls for new 5-year plan to tackle backlog

The number of people waiting to start planned, consultant-led hospital treatment topped 4.14 million in February 2019, which was 380,000 higher than the same period last year, official figures show. However, there has been some improvement, with 539,854 patients waiting longer than 18 weeks to start treatment in February 2019, compared to 552,219 in January 2019.

NHS England’s ‘Referral to Treatment’ (RTT) statistics show 87.0% of patients waiting to start treatment were seen within 18 weeks, meaning the government’s 92% target has not been met in three years – since February 2016. There has however been an improvement compared to the same period last year (February 2018), when 87.9% of patients were seen within 18 weeks.  In February 2019 there were more patients waiting longer than 18 weeks to start treatment compared to February 2018, when the figure was 454,342. 


A total of 207,435 patients were waiting more than six months for treatment in February 2019. This was 20.1% higher than the same period last year, when 172,696 were waiting more than six months.  There were also 33,707 waiting more than nine months for treatment, compared to 28,364 in February 2018.  The number of patients waiting over 52 weeks (one year) also increased compared to the same period last year. In February 2019, 1,963 patients waited over one year to start treatment, compared to 2,236 last year.


The data indicates NHS performance against the government’s 18-week target was worse overall this winter compared to the same period last year. Between December 2017 and February 2018 88.1% of patients were treated within 18 weeks – this fell to 86.8% for the  December 2018 to February 2019 period. This winter saw milder weather and lower rates of flu[1] and the winter vomiting bug - the norovirus[2].


The NHS has struggled to catch up with the backlog of patients on the elective waiting list, after operations were cancelled last winter. NHS England’s Emergency Pressures Panel (of which the RCS was a member) advised hospitals to postpone all non-urgent procedures for NHS patients in January 2018. This was necessary at the time to allow NHS hospital staff to deal with high numbers of patients needing emergency treatment. However, the backlog it created remains and continues to have an impact on NHS elective waiting times, more than a year later.


Commenting on today’s data, Professor Derek Alderson, President of the Royal College of Surgeons, said: “This winter has been much milder and the number of patients waiting longer than 18 weeks has improved between January and February. The NHS did not have to resort to the same cancellations of planned operations we saw last year to deal with high demand. However, with 380,000 more people on the waiting list compared to the same time last year, today’s data shows far too many patients are still having to wait for too long. Many are left in pain and in limbo, waiting for planned hip, heart or brain operations. Surgery can be both corrective and preventative, so these delays can result in patients’ conditions worsening while they wait. We can’t rely on the weather in future years. The RCS is calling for a 5-year plan that will tackle the backlog of patients on the NHS elective waiting list. This should include a commitment to increase hospital bed capacity.” 




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 Press Office:

    Telephone: 020 7869 6047


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