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Surgeons warn of ‘very difficult winter ahead’, as new figures show a record 7.21 million people waiting for planned NHS care

08 Dec 2022

The Royal College of Surgeons of England has warned that a ‘very difficult’ winter lies ahead in the NHS, as new figures show a record 7.21 million people are waiting for planned care.1

Today’s statistics show progress has been made on reducing the longest waits – 1,907 people were waiting more than two years for hospital treatment in October 2022, down from 23,778 in January 2022 - the all-time high. 

The next target set out in the government’s Elective Recovery Plan is to eliminate waits of 18 months or more by April 2023, but today’s figures show slow progress towards this target.2,3  Although there was a small reduction in the number of people waiting 18 months or more (50,124 for October, compared to 50,780 in September) the 18-month waiting figure has been stubbornly stuck at above 50,000 patients for the past few months.

Meanwhile the total waiting list, and the number of people waiting a year or more for planned care continues to rise. In October 2022, 410,983 patients were waiting a year or more for planned hospital treatment. This is 98,318 more than a year ago; in October 2021, 312,665 patients were waiting 52 weeks or more.

This week the government announced it would be setting up a new ‘Elective Recovery Taskforce’, to try to reduce waiting times for NHS patients by using additional capacity in the independent sector. The taskforce is looking at how collaboration between the NHS and independent sector can be improved, so that the NHS can make more use of independent sector capacity.

Commenting on today’s waiting time figures, and the new Taskforce, Mr Tim Mitchell, a consultant Ear, Nose and Throat Surgeon, and Vice President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said:

“We are concerned that a very difficult winter lies ahead, with hospitals full of patients, flu and Covid-19, and increased pressure on emergency departments. We also face the prospect of industrial action by staff who are burnt-out and feel undervalued. Today’s figures show that yet again the total number of patients on the waiting list continues to increase. We are also worried about those patients who have been waiting a long time for planned treatment, with their lives effectively put on hold.

“We welcome the government’s plans to help the NHS make use of capacity in the independent sector to reduce waits for NHS patients.  However, it’s the same depleted workforce who will be treating patients there.  The government urgently needs to publish its workforce strategy.  It can tinker around the edges of the NHS, but if we do not have enough staff to meet patient demand, existing vacancies will only get worse, putting remaining staff under more pressure.

“In surgery, the reality is that, without more nurses and anaesthetic staff to support surgeons in theatre, we will struggle to bring record waiting lists down this winter and beyond.

Notes to editors

  1. NHS performance statistics published today are available here:

  2. NHS England has added a note to say that when interpreting these data, account should be taken of any providers that did not submit data in a given month. In October 2022, this was the case for Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust (RDU) and Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust (R0A). To aid interpretation, the RTT Overview Timeseries file, linked to above, contains additional series for key measures at a national level that include estimates for non-reporters in each month.The data included in our press notice above refers to NHS England data with the estimates for missing data included.

  3.  The government’s elective recovery plan can be read here: C1466-delivery-plan-for-tackling-the-covid-19-backlog-of-elective-care.pdf (

  4.  The Royal College of Surgeons of England (RCS 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 Press Office:

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