Please enter both an email address and a password.

Account login

Need to reset your password?  Enter the email address which you used to register on this site (or your membership/contact number) and we'll email you a link to reset it. You must complete the process within 2hrs of receiving the link.

We've sent you an email

An email has been sent to Simply follow the link provided in the email to reset your password. If you can't find the email please check your junk or spam folder and add to your address book.

Surgeons say COVID waiting list time bomb has ‘already detonated’

09 Jul 2020

The Royal College of Surgeons of England today (Thursday) said that what they described in Spring as a ‘time bomb’ under surgical waiting lists had ‘already detonated’, and called for a ‘plan for recovery’.

Today’s NHS England waiting times figures show that the number of patients who have now waited over 52 weeks more than doubled from last month, and has increased by 16 times since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.  26,029 had waited more than 52 weeks in May, up from 11,042 in April, and up from just 1,613 in February.

In addition, the proportion of patients seen within the statutory target of 18 weeks is down to 62.2%, the lowest since January 2008.  By law, 92% of patients are supposed to get their treatment within 18 weeks of referral, but the standard has been breached every month for more than four years. 

While the figures show a slight rebound in new referrals to hospital – up from 491,934 in April to 625,320 in May – they are still 64% lower than in the same month last year. 

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

“We have been concerned since the start of this pandemic that suspending elective surgery for a period of months placed a time bomb under what was already a crisis in NHS waiting times.

“That time bomb has now detonated, with the numbers of those waiting more than a year for treatment spiralling out of control to the worst levels since September 2009.  And the supposed legal right for patients to be treated within 18 weeks looks more like a vague aspiration, with 2 in 5 now waiting longer.

“What is needed now is an urgent effort from DHSC to work with NHS England, Trusts and the professionals to establish a clear plan for recovery, first tackling the terrible increase in people waiting more than a year, then getting back to the 18 week target, and then looking to an even more ambitious standard in future. 

“Making progress will require a rapid expansion of ‘COVID-light sites’ where surgical patients can be treated safely, even if there is a further spike in the pandemic.  The NHS cannot ever again slip back to being simply a COVID-only service. 

“If the state can pay for people to have meals out, it must surely find the money to put the NHS back on its feet.”



Notes to editors

The NHS England figures waiting times figures were published today at  They show:

a)    26,029 patients were waiting for over 52 weeks in May 2020 compared to 11,042 in April 2020. In February just 1,613 patients were waiting for more than 52 weeks.  The last time a higher number of patients was waiting over 52 weeks was in September 2009, when the figure was 31,756.

b)    62.2% of patients were seen within 18 weeks in May 2020. This was worse than the previous month (71.3%) and below the same month the previous year (86.9%). It is the worst performance since January 2008. 

c)    1,448,357 patients were waiting over 18 weeks for treatment in May 2020. This is the highest number since December 2007.

d)    The statutory target of 92% of patients being treated within 18 weeks has not been met since February 2016.

e)    Overall, there were 3.83 million patients on the waiting list for treatment in May 2020. This is a fall from 3.94 million the previous month

f)     The "number of new RTT periods" (referrals) rose to 625,320 in May 2020 from 491,934 in April 2020, but was 64% lower than in May 2019, when 1,755,805 referrals were made.

2)    The Royal College of Surgeons of England has published a Surgical Recovery Plan and made detailed submissions about how the NHS should recover from the COVID crisis in its representations to the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee.

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 RCS press office: telephone: 020 7869 6047; email:; out-of-hours media enquiries – 020 7869 6056.

Share this page: