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More than 200,000 patients waiting over a year for hospital treatment

11 Feb 2021

New NHS England statistics published today show the huge strain COVID-19 is putting on waiting lists, with more than 200,000 patients waiting more than a year for hospital treatment. 

A record 4.52 million patients were on the waiting list December 2020.

Commenting on the figures, Mr Tim Mitchell, Vice President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said:

“Covid-19 continues to take an enormous toll on hundreds of thousands of people across the country left waiting for an operation. The number of people waiting over a year for their treatment is now 150 times higher than in 2019.  Many are waiting ‘in limbo’, reliant on painkillers, and unable to get on with day-to-day family life or work. 

“These figures show the impact on the NHS of lifting the November national lockdown. By Christmas some surgeons were facing the awful job of calling up patients waiting for cancer operations, to tell them they weren’t sure when they would have a bed or the staff in place to operate.

“After a gruelling December, we’re beginning to see infection rates coming down in parts of the country, thanks to the January lockdown.  However, many staff are burnt-out from what has been a brutal and traumatic year. They will need time and support to recover. Looking ahead to spring, we need a ‘New Deal for Surgery’ with investment in hospital beds and staff, to begin to address the massive backlog of patients still waiting for their operations.”

The Referral to Treatment (RTT) figures report that 67.8% of patients were seen within 18 weeks in December 2020, down from 68.2% in November 2020. This falls short of the legal target that 92% of patients should be seen within 18 weeks. 

There were 224,205 patients waiting over 52 weeks in December 2020 compared to 192,169 in November 2020. In December 2019 just 1,467 patients were waiting over a year for treatment.

Notes to editors

1.    Referral to Treatment (RTT) waiting time statistics for December 2020 are available here:   

2.     England’s second national lockdown came to an end on 2 December 2020.  

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 Press Office: Tel. 0207 869 6047/6052; email: For out-of-hours media enquiries, please telephone: 0207 869 6056.


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