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Waiting time numbers hit new high

Record high of 4.42 million people waiting for routine operations

Adrian O'Dowd

Thursday, 14 November 2019

Official figures released today show record numbers of patients waiting for NHS treatment in England – the last such figures to be published before the general election next month.

NHS England’s performance statistics showed that there were 4.42 million patients on the waiting list for routine operations at the end of September – the highest number in NHS history – and this was an increase of 5.7% compared with September 2018.

Of these people, 84.8% had been waiting less than 18 weeks, thus not meeting the 92% target.

Only 83.6% of accident and emergency (A&E) patients were admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours, again below the 95% target. This represented a 2% decrease on the equivalent figure for October 2018.

Around three quarters (76.9%) of cancer patients started treatment within 62 days, which is below the 85% target and 90.1% of people in September were seen by a specialist within two weeks of an urgent GP referral for suspected cancer. This was slightly down on the 91.2% figure at the end of September 2018. The target is meant to be 93%.

Doctors’ leaders and health experts said the figures highlighted extreme pressures on the NHS.

British Medical Association (BMA) council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: “These shocking figures show precisely what the BMA has feared – that the NHS is on a collision course for its worst winter yet. This is a catastrophe for the NHS with autumn figures as bad as any in the depths of winter.

“The next government must seriously back the NHS in both the short and long term, with more funding, more staff and improved facilities comparable to other European nations.”

Health think tank the Nuffield Trust’s chief economist Professor John Appleby said: “These figures show the next government will immediately be faced with one of the bleakest winters in the NHS’s history.

“We have many months to go until seasonal pressures really hit the NHS, but October has already seen an unprecedented slump with performance against the main A&E target worse than ever.

“These are not acceptable waits, both for people who need urgent help and for the staff who desperately want to treat them. As the election promises roll in, we should be under no illusion about the money, staff and time it will take to turn this situation around.”

Fellow think tank The King’s Fund had similar concerns. Its chief executive Richard Murray said: “These figures underline the scale of the challenge for the next government, which will enter office when the NHS faces one of the worst winters in its history.

“This is a crisis in the making and it won’t wait; the new government must prioritise addressing chronic NHS staffing shortages and expediting measures to deal with the consultant pensions crisis which is heaping additional pressures on A&E departments.”

Dr Nick Scriven, immediate past president of the Society of Acute Medicine said urgent action was needed because the system was imploding.

“These figures are truly worrying as we haven't even reached the 'traditional' winter period yet,” he said.

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “These figures show a service under intolerable pressure – in just about every area, the demand for NHS care and treatment is rising.

“In spite of extra funding, NHS front-line staff are under incredible strain, with emergency departments having to cope with more patients than ever – with some seeing increases of up to 12% on last year. We have 100,000 vacancies, overwhelmed GP practices and community services, and a broken social care system.”


*Combined Performance Summary November 2019. NHS England, 14 November 2019.

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