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Surgeons say tackling long waits is key to ‘levelling up access to surgery’ as two-year waits hit record high of almost 24,000

10 Mar 2022

The Royal College of Surgeons of England has called for a national effort to level up access to surgery, as new figures show 23,778 patients waiting two years or more for consultant-led hospital treatment.

The longest waits were for Trauma and Orthopaedic treatment - such as hip and knee replacements (5,538), followed by General Surgery - such as gallbladder removals and hernia operations (2,874), followed by Ear Nose and Throat treatment (3,036)

The monthly Referral to Treatment statistics published by NHS England also show the total hospital waiting list hit a record high of 6.1 million in January.1

The government has asked the NHS to contact every patient who has waited two years or more by the end of March, to offer them a choice of an independent provider or a different hospital they could travel to.2  RCS England welcomed the push to tackle long-waits as key to reducing health inequalities and ‘levelling up’ access to surgery.3

Mr Tim Mitchell, a consultant ear, nose and throat surgeon and Vice-President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said: 

“Today’s figures show a record 23,778 patients waiting two years or more for hospital treatment. That suggests more than 1,000 patients a day will need to be contacted every day in March. It’s a big task, but these long waits for operations must be tackled, so that we can begin to level up access to surgery. We know waiting lists for hospital treatment are growing more quickly in deprived areas, where waits of a year or more for treatment are more common.  So sorting out the backlog is one way to reduce health inequalities.

“If someone is left waiting years for a planned hip or knee operation, for example, it’s not surprising they will now be struggling to walk or work.  We must find a way to get these patients treated, even if it means paying for them to travel to a part of the country that’s less afflicted, or paying for treatment in the independent sector.”

Mr Mitchell warned, however, that success depends on a credible workforce plan.  He added:  “The long term workforce plan promised by the health secretary this week2, must deliver answers to the long-standing issue of staff vacancies, and improve workforce planning.  The best way to do so would be to accept the workforce amendment to the Health and Care Bill that’s backed by 100 medical organisations and the House of Lords.”


Notes to editors

  1. NHS performance statistics published today are available here:
  2. Mr Sajid Javid, the health and social care secretary, announced in a speech on Tuesday (March 8), that those patients who have been waiting two years or more for consultant-led hospital treatment will be contacted by the end of this month (March) to be offered treatment at an alternative healthcare provider.This could be a nearby trust or hospital in the independent sector: Health and Social Care Secretary speech on Health Reform - GOV.UK (
  3. Analysis by the King’s Fund shows that during the pandemic, the number of patients waiting more than one year for treatment increased rapidly across the country, but more so in the most deprived areas: Tackling the elective backlog – exploring the relationship between deprivation and waiting times | The King's Fund (
  4. 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.
  5. For more information, please contact the Press Office:

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