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Waiting times worst on record – Surgeons flag urgent need to build up hospital reserves

10 Sep 2020

Today’s waiting time figures [1] show that just 46.8% of patients were treated within 18 weeks, against a statutory target of 92%.

A record 2 million patients were waiting more than 18 weeks.

President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, Professor Neil Mortensen said:

“It is disappointing to see waiting lists were still shooting upwards in July. This is three months after the peak in COVID cases. This is two months after the ‘NHS road map’ [2], aimed at safely bringing back routine operations. We had hoped to see routine surgery recovering by July. Sadly, the stats have proven us wrong. They show the worst waiting times ever on record.

 “Patients who have now been waiting many months, even a year or more for their treatment, cannot afford to wait until next spring. For those unable to return to work due to their condition, this is not only a health issue, but an economic one too.

 “We urgently need to build up our hospital reserves if we are to see this winter through. Flu, together with continuing local COVID outbreaks, must not bring surgery to a standstill again, or thousands more will suffer. 

 “To winter-proof the NHS, we need protected and separate ‘COVID-light’ facilities, with regular testing of staff and patients and a stockpile of PPE.  By the end of this month, the goal is to be at 80% of last year’s surgical activity [3]. NHS staff across the country are committed to helping our patients, and turning the corner on these ever-worsening waiting time statistics.”


Notes to editors

[1]   Waiting time stats published today (for July 2020) by NHS England are available at: 2020- . They show:

  • The number of patients waiting over 18 weeks in July was 2,151,443 - this is the highest figure since records began, in August 2007.
  • Only 46.8% of patients were treated within 18 weeks, against a statutory target of 92% - this is the lowest % since records began.


[3]    NHSE’s Phase Three letter asks trusts and systems to, ‘Recover the maximum elective activity possible between now and winter’, with an aim for, ‘In September at least 80% of their last year’s activity for both overnight electives and for outpatient/daycase procedures’:


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.

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

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