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‘Big challenge ahead’ for surgical teams to meet government targets – as new figures show a record 6.07 million patients on the waiting list

10 Feb 2022

The Royal College of Surgeons of England has warned a ‘big challenge’ lies ahead for the NHS to eliminate the number of people waiting more than two years for consultant-led hospital treatment by July.

The warning comes as new figures, published today, show a record 20,065 people waiting more than two years for treatment in December (2021) and 6.07 million people on the waiting list overall.1

The Elective Recovery Plan2, published earlier this week, set out the government’s plan for reducing the backlog in elective care that has built up through the pandemic, along with new targets including:

  • By July 2022, no one will wait longer than two years for an elective (planned) treatment.
  • The NHS will aim to eliminate waits of over 18 months by April 2023.
  • Returning the number of people waiting more than 62 days from an urgent referral back to pre-pandemic levels by March 2023.
  • Eliminating waits of longer than a year for elective care by March 2025.

Miss Fiona Myint, a consultant vascular surgeon and Vice President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said:

“These figures for December show just how stretching the government’s targets are.  The number of patients waiting for elective treatment, such as hip, knee or hernia surgery reached another record total of 6.07 million. Within this, 20,065 patients were waiting more than two years for hospital treatment.

“NHS staff were working around the clock in December, to deliver the booster programme.  Thankfully today, more planned operations are able to happen, and we have started making progress on these very long waits.  But we are also caring for more than 13,500 patients in hospitals across the country with COVID-19.  We have staff off sick with the virus and the persistent problem of around 100,000 staff vacancies.   We are not out of the woods yet.  Eliminating two-year waits remains a big challenge.”

Today’s data show the longest waits were for Trauma and Orthopaedic treatment - such as hip and knee replacements (4,467), followed by General Surgery - such as gallbladder removals and hernia operations (2,368), followed by Ear Nose and Throat treatment (2,475).

Notes to editors

  1. NHS performance statistics published today are available here:
  2. The Elective Recovery Plan is available in full here:
  3. Number of patients in hospital with COVID-19:
  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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