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180% increase in patients waiting more than half a year for treatment – RCS analysis

02 Jun 2017

A new analysis of waiting times data by the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) has found that in March 2017 the number of patients waiting more than six months (26 weeks) for treatment was 126,188 – a rise of 180% in four years. In March 2013, the year when six month waiters were at their lowest level, 45,054 patients were waiting more than six months for treatment.

The RCS is announcing plans to regularly analyse six and nine month waits in the NHS. This follows concerns that no political party has set out a clear plan to deal with rising waiting times, and because the 18-week target for treatment has been deprioritised by the health service. The NHS can still be fined for patients failing to be treated within 12 months and only a small number of patients now wait longer than this. So the RCS expects more patients to be waiting six and nine months for surgery and other treatment over the next few years.

The data shows that patients awaiting some types of surgery were experiencing particularly strong rises in six or more month waits between March 2013 and March 2017 including:

•    Ear, Nose and Throat – 256% rise
•    Urology – 199% rise
•    General surgery – 146% rise
•    Oral surgery – 146% rise
•    Brain and spinal surgery – 145% rise

Non-surgical specialties have also seen high increases. For example, the number of patients waiting more than six months for dermatology has increased by 330%.
The number of patients waiting more than nine months (39 weeks) for treatment, has also risen by 209% during the same period. This is a rise from 6,415 patients in March 2013 to 19,838 patients in March 2017.

Recent analysis by the Nuffield Trust shows no political party is promising increases in NHS funding which will meet the growing demands on the health system.

Miss Clare Marx, President of the Royal College of Surgeons commented:

“Thanks to the hard work of staff, the NHS is now treating more patients than ever before. Waiting times have come down a lot since 10 years ago and far fewer patients are waiting over a year for treatment.

“However, over the last few years waits for treatment have begun to head in the wrong direction once again. We are now struggling to meet the standards and timeliness of care that the public rightly expect. It is unacceptable for such a large number of patients to be waiting over half a year in pain and discomfort for treatment. This is the grim reality of the financial pressures facing the NHS.

“Many of these patients are older and in the most serious cases, such as for brain surgery, waiting longer could have a big effect on the quality of someone’s life and their eventual recovery from surgery.

“With the 18-week target now being deprioritised, our concern is that we will see a fast deterioration in waiting times with tens of thousands of more patients waiting longer than six months for surgery. This is particularly the case when the Nuffield Trust think tank says none of the main political parties are promising increases in NHS funding which will meet the growing demands on the health system. Neither has any party set out a clear plan to deal with rising waiting times – it appears to be a blind spot. The Royal College of Surgeons will therefore now regularly monitor this data to assess the extent to which patients are waiting far too long for surgery.

“We are keen to work with the next Government and NHS England to look at how we can prevent patients waiting ever longer for their care. We are seriously short of overnight bed capacity in the NHS and this is a significant reason behind why waiting times are creeping up. When pressures in emergency departments rise, patients waiting planned surgery can have their operations cancelled or delayed until more space becomes available.

“In this election we urge all political parties to make timely access to surgery an urgent priority”.

Notes to editors

  1. The full dataset is available on request.
  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:

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