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Surgeons call for investment in surgical hubs as NHS waiting list hits record 5.3 million

08 Jul 2021

The Royal College of Surgeons of England has called on the government to invest in ‘surgical hubs’ and train more frontline NHS staff, as the number of patients on the NHS waiting list hits a record 5.3 million.

Miss Stella Vig is a council member at the Royal College of Surgeons of England and a consultant general and vascular surgeon. She warned that with COVID-19 restrictions lifting on 19th July, surgical hubs are needed across the country to treat the millions of people waiting for hospital treatment. 

The latest data, published today, reports 5.3 million people on the NHS waiting list in May 2021, the highest number since records began.  The legal target is for 92% of patients to be treated within 18 weeks. In May 67.4% were treated within 18 weeks, an improvement on the previous month, but reflecting 1,728,981 people waiting longer than they should.

Furthermore, the figures show an increase in very long waits of over two years for hospital treatment. 3,927 patients in May had been waiting more than two years for NHS treatment. The most common long waits are for trauma and orthopaedic treatment (812 people) followed by general surgery patients (455), which includes gallbladder and hernia operations. A total of 418 people were waiting two years or more for Ear, Nose or Throat treatment.  

Commenting on the figures, RCS England Council member Miss Stella Vig said: 

“We are very concerned that the NHS waiting list for elective treatment is getting larger with each passing month. Behind the stats are patients waiting for planned surgery such as breast reconstruction surgery following a mastectomy, or a cochlear implant to improve their hearing. These types of procedures are life-changing. With the rest of the country looking forward to restrictions lifting on 19th July, our patients have the right to expect a date in their diary for their operation. 

“An operation can enable someone to return to work and an independent life. As a country, we cannot afford to let waiting times for operations get ever longer.  COVID hospital admissions remain relatively low, thanks to the successful vaccination programme. But with cases rising steeply, and emergency departments under pressure, we need government investment in surgical hubs and staff now, to stop surgery slowing down again.” 


Notes to editors

1. Full, historical NHS England Consultant-led Referral to Treatment Waiting Times can be found here:

2. The Royal College of Surgeons of England’s ‘New Deal for Surgery’ Report which sets out the College’s recommendations for tackling the backlog of planned can be viewed here: Action Plan for the Recovery of Surgical Services in England (May 2021) — The Royal College of Surgeons of England (

3.The Royal College of Surgeons of England is a professional membership organisation and registered charity, which exists to advance patient care. We support over 28,000 members in the UK and internationally by improving their skills and knowledge, facilitating research and developing policy and guidance. 

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


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