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Record number of people on hospital waiting lists

14 Jan 2021

Referral to Treatment (RTT) waiting time statistics in England, published today, show the calamitous impact of COVID-19 on hospital waiting lists.  A record 4.46 million patients were waiting for hospital treatment in November 2020.

Commenting on the figures, Professor Neil Mortensen, President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said:

“Today’s figures show the calamitous impact of COVID-19 on wait times for operations. In November, a record number of patients were waiting for hospital treatment.

“For thousands of people in this country, a corrective operation is the best way to relieve debilitating pain and get them back up on their feet, back to work and enjoying life again.

“Many of us were complaining about the pain of the lockdown restrictions in November. However, we should remember all those people waiting for an operation, who had their physical pain to deal with, on top of the pain of lockdown.

“A huge, hidden waiting list is building up under lockdown. When we eventually emerge from this crisis, we will need sustained investment to treat all those who have been waiting patiently for treatment.”

The RTT figures report that 68.2% of patients were seen within 18 weeks in November 2020.  While this falls short of the legal target that 92% of patients should be seen within 18 weeks, this performance represents an improvement on the previous month, when it was 65.5%. The improvement in 18 week performance illustrates the extent to which many elective services continued to run through the autumn, in spite of rising cases of COVID.

However, the number of long-waiters rose steeply again in November. 192,169 patients were waiting over 52 weeks in November 2020 compared to 162,888 in October 2020. In November 2019 just 1,398 patients were waiting over a year for treatment.

Notes to editors

  1. RTT statistics for November are available here:


  2. In November, England was under a second national lockdown (which ran from 5 November to 2 December).


  3. 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.


  4. For more information, please contact the Press Office: Tel. 0207 869 6047/6052; email: For out-of-hours media enquiries, please telephone: 0207 869 6056.

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