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Surgeons call for more hospital beds – as waiting list soars to 5.72 million

14 Oct 2021

The Royal College of Surgeons of England has today called for an increase in the number of hospital beds and staff - as latest figures show the waiting list reaching a record 5.72 million, with nearly 10,000 people waiting more than two years for hospital treatment.

Miss Fiona Myint, Vice President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said that patients were becoming ‘disillusioned’ as planned operations continue to be affected by a shortage of intensive care beds.  Patients undergoing more complex elective surgery may need to stay in intensive care as part of their recovery. Miss Myint added that staff shortages were also an issue in tackling the elective backlog.

Miss Myint said: “Waiting lists are soaring, with a record 5.72 million people waiting for planned treatment in England.  When we said we were re-starting planned surgery, there was a sigh of relief from patients waiting for their operation. But the reality is that the number of planned operations we can undertake is still limited by having insufficient intensive care beds to care for patients after surgery. We are still fighting COVID and many of the sickest patients end up in intensive care, which has an impact on the operations we can do.  Each person on the waiting list is there for a reason - because they need hospital treatment to help them get back to normal life.”

NHS performance data, published today, reveals there were 5.72 million people on the NHS waiting list in August 2021, the highest number since records began. 1

The longest waits reported are the 9,754 patients waiting more than two years for hospital treatment. This represents a 22 % increase on the previous month. The longest waits were for trauma and orthopaedic treatment such as hip and knee replacements (2,075), followed by General Surgery - such as gallbladder removals and hernia operations (1,259), followed by Ear Nose and Throat treatment (1,113).

Miss Myint said that the way to reduce the backlog in elective care was to train and recruit more NHS staff, and improve infrastructure and bed capacity in the NHS: “The reality is that we require more staff and hospital beds to bring down the elective waiting list. This includes nurses and operating department assistants, who are part of the team in the operating theatre. We must also look at how we can retain the staff we have. We need to improve morale in the NHS after the past two years which have been very tough.”

In England, bed numbers have shrunk over the past decade. Official statistics published by NHS England show the number of general and acute hospital beds fell from 110,568 in 2010/11 to 96,998 in 2021/22.2

In May, the Royal College of Surgeons of England published its ‘New Deal for Surgery’ 3 report. This called on the government to adopt a long-term aim to increase the number of hospital beds from 2.5 to 4.7 per 1,000 people, in line with the OECD average.  It also called on government to increase the number of doctors (including anaesthetists and surgeons) to the OECD average; from 2.8 to 3.5 per 1,000 population.


Notes to editors

  1. NHS performance statistics published today are available here:
  2. NHS England. Bed availability and occupancy data (Q1 2020/21).
  3. The College’s New Deal for Surgery report can be read here.
  4. The Royal College of Surgeons of England is a professional membership organisation and registered charity. The College provides world-class education, assessment and development to more than 28,000 surgeons, dental professionals and members of the wider surgical and dental care teams, at all stages of their career. The College sets professional standards, facilitates research and champions the best outcomes for patients – with a vision to see excellent surgical care for everyone.
  5. For more information, please contact the RCS England Press Office on: 020 7869 6052/6054; or email:

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