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NHS hospitals need plan to tackle backlog of patients, warns RCS

14 Mar 2019

NHS hospitals continue to struggle to reduce long waiting lists which include over 220,000 patients that have been waiting more than six months for treatment, the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) has warned. There were also over 36,000 patients waiting more than nine months for treatment. 

Figures published today show there were 227,569 patients waiting over six months, and 36,857 patients waiting over nine months, to start planned NHS treatment in January 2019, according NHS performance data published today. This is an increase of 30.7% and 38.7% respectively on the same period last year.

NHS England’s ‘Referral to Treatment’ (RTT) statistics for January 2019, show that 4.16 million patients were waiting to start treatment overall. The data shows the number of patients waiting more than 18 weeks to start planned treatment in January 2019 was 552,219.  Only 86.7% were seen within 18 weeks, meaning the government’s 92% target has not been met in just short of three years – since February 2016. By comparison, the number of patients waiting longer than 18 weeks for planned treatment in January 2018, was 440,841.  

The number of patients waiting over 52 weeks (one year) also increased compared to the same period last year. In January 2019, more than 2,157 patients waited over one year to start treatment. 

NHS England announced plans this week to pilot new NHS targets and measurements for cancer, emergency and planned treatment in England. The RCS said that development of the new standards must be driven by doing the best for patients, ensuring that they are seen and treated in a timely manner. The standards should incentivise behaviours that lead to better treatment for patients, rather than hospital processes.

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

“The backlog of patients waiting to start treatment continues to grow. There are now over 100,000 more patients waiting longer than 18 weeks to start treatment when compared with the same time last year. 

“While we support NHS England’s plans to pilot new targets and measurements that could improve care, changing targets will not solve the underlying challenges our health service faces. 

“With the worst of winter now hopefully behind us, there is an urgent need for a plan to deal with the increasing backlog of patients on the planned care waiting list and we will work with NHS England to bring this about. Part of this plan must be a commitment to increase hospital bed capacity.” 

Figures also show that in February 2019, 75.7% of patients at major A&E departments (‘type 1 units’) were treated within the four hours. The total number of A&E attendances at major units was 1,233,159 in February 2019, compared to 1,151,757 in February 2018.


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
Out-of-hours media enquiries: 07966 486832

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