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Waiting lists for treatment referrals highest on record

Latest performance figures show NHS is in permanent winter pressures mode; recent cash pledge not enough to turn this round, warn healthcare leaders

Caroline White

Friday, 09 August 2019

The number of people waiting more than 18 weeks to start treatment in England is the highest on record, while the number of 12-hour trolley waits has tripled since this time last year, reveal the latest NHS performance figures* issued by NHS England/Improvement.

The figures indicate that the NHS is in permanent winter pressures mode, say healthcare leaders, who warn that the recent cash pledge made by prime minister Johnson won’t be enough to turn this round


British Medical Association (BMA) consultants committee chair Dr Rob Harwood, said the figures “show the continuing rapid deterioration of performance levels within the health service, as despite being the middle of summer, the NHS is experiencing pressures reminiscent of the worst winters.”

He continued: “The situation for patients is extremely concerning, with over 4.5 million people waiting for treatment – the highest figure on record – and 12-hour trolley waits tripling compared to this time last year.

“With 20,000 cancelled operations in the last quarter - up by six per cent in the same period last year - June waiting times for cancer treatment and referrals the worst since records began, and July being the busiest month for A&E attendances ever recorded, the NHS is in desperate need of a lifeline.”

He added that the recently announced cash for the NHS was welcome, “if that indeed represents new investment, but frankly these figures suggest that much more is needed if the performance of the NHS is to be restored.”

Richard Murray, chief executive at The King’s Fund said the winter crisis in A&E had merged straight into “a summer crisis,” with no sign of the usual summer recovery.

“For the second month in a row, just four out of 119 major accident and emergency departments met the target for seeing 95 per cent of patients within four hours. With the highest number of people attending A&E in a month on record, the number waiting for planned hospital treatment has now exceeded 4.5 million.

“The proportion of people waiting more than 18 weeks to start treatment stands at the highest level in over a decade. Progress on bringing down the list of people waiting over a year to start treatment has also stalled.”

The figures “make clear that patients face a long wait to see improvements in care as a result of the NHS funding boost,” he said, adding that resolving the pensions issue for senior doctors would help, but that the new government had to prioritise chronic staff shortages in the NHS.

Tim Gardner, senior policy fellow at think tank the Health Foundation, said the statistics show “there is a mountain to climb.”

He continued: “The NHS has routinely missed the key 62-day cancer waiting time target for over five years, with delays in diagnosis playing a key role. If not adequately addressed, these ongoing pressures will increasingly impact on patients and the level of care that the health service can deliver.”

And he warned: “The investment in the NHS’s creaking infrastructure announced by the prime minister earlier this week is welcome, but nowhere close to the comprehensive settlement that would provide the NHS with the equipment and facilities needed to relieve the growing strain on services.

“The UK currently lags behind comparable countries in terms of the number of CT and MRI scanners and would need an extra £1.5bn just to bring it in line with other developed nations.” 


*Combined performance summary August 2019. NHS England, NHS Improvement, 8 August 2019

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