Record NHS waiting lists approaches 5 million
13 May 2021
NHS England waiting time statistics published today show the longest ever waiting list, since records began in 2007. 4.95 million people were waiting for planned hospital treatment in March 2021, for instance hip and knee replacements, post-mastectomy breast reconstructions and ear, nose and throat operations.
The figures also show over 400,000 (436, 127) patients waiting more than one year for their treatment, laying bare the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. By comparison, in March 2020 just 3,097 people in England were waiting over a year for hospital treatment.
The first national lockdown began on 23 March 2020, so today’s figures show the impact that a year of COVID has had1.
Mr Tim Mitchell, Vice President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said:
“In recent months we’ve become accustomed to seeing the record broken each month for the number of people waiting for NHS hospital treatment, but we must not forget that behind these stomach-churning numbers are ordinary people who have been forced to put their lives on hold. Today’s figures show the impact that a year of COVID has had on NHS surgery.
“With the number of Covid-19 patients in hospital at the lowest it has been since September last year2, the recovery of planned surgery is fortunately now well underway. Still, any prospect of chiselling down the waiting list, which is now approaching 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.
“As we’ve seen the NHS do over the last year, we will pull together to serve patients. But we won’t be able to deal with the backlog overnight. It will take many years, more investment and some changes to how we deliver services.”
Commenting on related news today of a £160 million initiative to tackle waiting lists3, Professor Neil Mortensen, President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said:
“We welcome today’s announcement of funding for accelerator sites to explore and test new ways to get the elective backlog down. It will take both innovation and collaboration to reduce the huge waiting list that has built up over the last year.
“2020 was incredibly challenging for the NHS, but in the midst of the pressure, staff and hospitals came up with new solutions to keep urgent surgery going. Operations were scheduled at weekends, ‘surgical hubs’ were created and groups of hospitals worked together providing ‘mutual aid’ to each other. Embedding the learnings and innovation is key to the future sustainability of surgical services.”
Notes to editors
- NHS hospitals in England were told in March 2020 to suspend all non-urgent elective surgery for at least three months from 15 April, to help the service deal with the Covid-19 pandemic: https://www.england.nhs.uk/coronavirus/wp-content/uploads/sites/52/2020/03/urgent-next-steps-on-nhs-response-to-covid-19-letter-simon-stevens.pdf This is when waiting lists started to rise.https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk/details/healthcare
- The NHS has today announced a £160 million initiative to tackle waiting lists and develop a blueprint for elective recovery as early reports show the health service is recovering faster after the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic: https://www.england.nhs.uk/2021/05/nhss-160-million-accelerator-sites-to-tackle-waiting-lists/
- The Referral to Treatment [RTT] figures are published here: https://www.england.nhs.uk/statistics/statistical-work-areas/rtt-waiting-times/rtt-data-2020-21/
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