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Surgeons: NHS workforce plan must be backed up by numbers

09 Mar 2023

Professor Fiona Myint, Vice President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, has warned that continuing to reduce the backlog of over 7.21 million patients waiting for treatment will be “difficult and slow”, unless the government publishes a workforce plan for the NHS that is fully funded and outlines the number of staff needed in the future, as promised.

The Chancellor, the Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP, made a commitment in the Autumn Statement to publish an NHS workforce plan that includes independently verified forecasts for the number of doctors, nurses and other professionals that will be needed in 5, 10 and 15 years’ time. However, reports this week suggest there is pressure to remove these numbers from the plan.

NHS performance data published today show a total of 7.21.million people waiting for consultant-led NHS hospital treatment in January 2023. This is an increase on figures for December 2022. Reflecting the hard work of NHS staff, the number of patients waiting more than 18 months (78 weeks) for treatment has decreased from 54,882 in December 2022, to 45,631 in January 2023. The government’s Elective Recovery Plan has a target to eliminate NHS waits of over 18 months (78 weeks), by April 2023.

Patients waiting for operations such as hip and knee replacements and general surgeries such as gallbladder removals and hernia repairs are waiting the longest. Today figures show, 799,188 patients waiting for Trauma & Orthopaedics 567,133 waiting for Ear, Nose & Throat treatment, and 451,651 waiting for General Surgery. 

Commenting on today’s figures and the need for a comprehensive NHS workforce plan, Professor Fiona Myint, Vice President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said:

“Our NHS workforce has never really recovered from the immense strain of the pandemic. With persistent shortages, low morale, poor mental health and more staff prepared to take industrial action, it is clear we need strong and decisive action from the government to ensure we can retain and recruit the workforce needed to keep chipping away at the backlog. So much hard work has gone into this recovery.

“In surgery, we see the effects of staff shortages every week when the absence of theatre nurses and anaesthetists lead to operations having to be cancelled at short notice.

“The NHS workforce plan the Chancellor promised in his Autumn Statement will be meaningless if it does not include projections for the number of doctors and nurses needed in the future. It will also need to be fully funded. Without this, reducing the backlog of patients waiting for treatment will be difficult and slow. With so many lives on hold waiting for surgery, the government cannot afford to fudge the NHS workforce plan.”


Notes to editors:

  1. NHS performance statistics on referral to treatment waiting times published today are available here:
  2. We have taken into account estimates for missing data in January 2023 for consultant-led Referral to Treatment (RTT) waiting times.
  3. The Royal College of Surgeons of England provides world-class education, assessment and development to 30,000 surgeons, dental professionals and members of the wider surgical and dental care teams, at all stages of their career. Our vision is to see excellent surgical care for everyone. We do this by setting professional standards, facilitating research and championing the best outcomes for patients.
  4. For more information, please contact the Press Office: Telephone: 020 7869 6052/6055; Email:; Out-of-hours media enquiries: 0207 869 6056.

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