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Surgeons call for 5-year-plan to tackle record NHS waiting lists

08 Aug 2019

There were a record 4.4 million people waiting for consultant-led hospital treatment in June 2019. 
Over 600,000 patients were waiting more than 18 weeks for treatment in June 2019 – the highest number since June 2008.
There were almost 20,000 operations cancelled at the last minute in April to June 2019.

Surgeons are calling again for a 5-year-plan to clear the backlog of patients waiting for consultant-led treatment, as hospital lists continue to grow. The renewed call from the Royal College of Surgeons of England (RCS) comes as NHS performance data shows a record 4.4 million patients were waiting for hospital treatment in June 2019. 

Only 86.3% of patients waiting to start planned, consultant-led hospital treatment were seen within 18 weeks. The Government’s target is for 92% of patients to be seen within 18 weeks. There were more than 600,000 patients waiting more than 18 weeks to start treatment in June 2019 – the highest number since June 2008. 

Surgeons expressed concern earlier this year when this legal target was quietly dropped from NHS England and NHS Improvement’s accountability framework, which includes the Government’s mandate to NHS England for 2019-20. The RCS says that while it supports NHS England’s plans to pilot new targets for access to care, it is premature to remove the 18-week target from the mandate, when a replacement has not yet been piloted or consulted on widely.

The latest NHS performance statistics reveal there were 36,971 patients waiting more than nine months (39 weeks) to start treatment in June 2019, and a further 233,479 waiting longer than six months (26 weeks). The RCS is also concerned that 19,969 operations were cancelled at the last minute in April to June 2019. 

Professor Derek Alderson, President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said:

“The number of patients languishing on waiting lists remains at an utterly unacceptable level. Although the Government has made welcome moves this week to reduce waiting times, by directing more money to hospital infrastructure projects and trying to resolve the pensions issue that has been exacerbating waiting times, there is still a big job ahead. 

“The number of operations cancelled between April and June is a strong indication that our NHS continues to take huge strain. Over those three months almost 20,000 patients went through the stress of gearing themselves up mentally and physically for surgery, only to be told at the last minute that their operation would need to be rescheduled. 

“Surgeons are also frustrated that the 18-week target no longer seems to be a priority. Performance against this target deteriorates each month that goes by. Its absence from the NHS mandate earlier this year sent a clear signal that it has been downgraded. 

“With a record 4.4 million patients on waiting lists, it’s obvious that the backlog won’t be cleared overnight. Hospitals need a clear plan for reducing waiting lists over the next 5 years. Part of this plan has to be increasing hospital beds across the country – at the very least, 3,000 are needed. We also need the staff and resources to run the wards these hospital beds will be on.”


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 6047/6052; Email:; Out of hours media enquiries: 07966 486832.


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