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New figures show the ‘tremendous pressure’ the NHS is under - with a record 6 million people on the waiting list

09 Dec 2021

The Royal College of Surgeons of England has urged the government to publish its ‘Elective Recovery Plan’ – as the number of patients waiting for consultant-led hospital treatment reaches a record 6 million.

The total waiting list reported today (for October 2021) is the highest figure since records began in August 2007. 

The figures also show that the number of people waiting over 18 weeks for treatment is now over 2 million.  Meanwhile, the number of patients waiting over two years for hospital treatment has increased to 16,225.  This is an increase of almost 30% on the previous month when 12,491 people were waiting.

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

“Today’s figures are bad news for patients waiting for planned surgery. There are now a record 6 million people waiting for planned hospital treatment. This includes patients waiting for hip and knee replacements, gallbladder removals and hernia operations. 

“The record waiting list reflects the constant pressure the NHS has been under since COVID-19 hit our shores.  Sadly we still have many unvaccinated people with COVID-19 needing critical care beds. Also, the important booster campaign will, unfortunately, divert precious resources at a time that is traditionally the busiest for the NHS.  It is essential that urgent operations to cure cancer - and other time-sensitive surgical procedures - are not delayed during these challenging times.

“Last night the government announced they are enacting Plan B.  Today we are urging the government to publish their delayed Elective Recovery Plan too.  This needs to give clear direction on the longer term transformation needed to tackle the waiting list, including, crucially, establishing surgical hubs across the country.  Patients who have been waiting a year or more now, need to know a plan is taking shape to get waiting times back on track.”

The Referral to Treatment data published by NHS England reveals there were 5.98 million1 people on the NHS waiting list in October 2021, the highest number since records began. By comparison, there were 4.45 m patients waiting for planned surgery in October 2020.

The longest waits reported are the 16,225 patients waiting more than two years for hospital treatment.  The longest waits were for trauma and orthopaedic treatment such as hip and knee replacements (3,463), followed by General Surgery - such as gallbladder removals and hernia operations (1,999), followed by Ear Nose and Throat treatment (1,944).

Notes to editors

  1. NHS performance statistics published today are available here:

  2. 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.

  3. For more information, please contact the RCS England Press Office on:

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