NHS performance summary: February-March 2021

Our monthly round-up of the latest NHS performance data.

Latest data

Published: 15/04/2021

Today, NHS England and NHS Digital published the latest data on key activity and performance measures for February and March of this year. Here we show some of these statistics and how they compare with previous trends.

Urgent care

  • In March 2021, total A&E attendances increased to almost 1.7 million – 10% higher than in March 2020 but 22% lower than in March 2019. 1.1 million attendances in March were to major (type 1) A&E departments.
  • There were 382,909 emergency admissions via A&E in March 2021 – 18% higher than in March 2020 but 8% lower than in March 2019. Emergency admissions via A&E have generally been increasing year-on-year, but fell dramatically in April 2020 to 257,928.
  • In March 2021, 14% of people attending A&E spent more than four hours from arrival to admission, transfer or discharge. Waiting times have improved for the past two consecutive months.
  • 50,972 patients spent more than four hours waiting on a trolley from a decision to admit to admission in March 2021 – approximately the same as in March 2020. 688 people had a trolley wait of over 12 hours in March 2021.
  • There were almost 1.7 million calls made to NHS 111 in March 2021, 43% lower than in March 2020 but 16% higher than in March 2019.

For more information, see our A&E waiting times indicator.

Treatment and diagnostic test activity and waiting times

  • The total number of people waiting to start consultant-led elective treatment increased to over 4.7 million in February 2021 (reported waiting list plus the estimate of missing data), the highest level since records began. This follows a previous fall to 3.9 million in May 2020.
  • The number of people waiting over 52 weeks to start consultant-led elective treatment increased to 387,855 in February 2021, the highest level since December 2007.
  • In February 2021, 35% of people waiting to start elective treatment had been waiting over 18 weeks – double the percentage waiting over 18 weeks in February 2020. The 18-week target has not been met for five years.
  • The number of first outpatient attendances for general and acute specialties increased slightly to over 1.5 million in February 2021, following a fall to 779,678 in April 2020 and subsequent increase to over 1.7 million in November 2020.
  • There were 766,845 GP referrals to general and acute specialties in February 2021 – almost three times the low of 257,850 in April 2020 but 26% lower than in February 2020.
  • 28% of patients had been waiting over six weeks for a diagnostic test in February 2021. The diagnostic waiting time target has not been met for over seven years.
  • For fifteen common diagnostic tests, including non-obstetric ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and computed tomography (CT), there were over 1.6 million tests carried out in February 2021. This follows a previous fall to 612,232 in April 2020 and subsequent increase to over 1.8 million in October 2020.

For more information, see our treatment waiting times and diagnostic test waiting times indicators.

Cancer waiting times

  • In February 2021, 30% of patients waited longer than two months to start their first treatment following an urgent GP referral for suspected cancer – the worst performance since records began. The 62-day cancer target has not been met for over five years.

For more information, see our cancer waiting time targets indicator.

About this data

During this unprecedented time for the health service, QualityWatch continues to provide independent scrutiny of the health and social care system as far as possible. The most recent data published today reflects changes in access and service use as a result of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. In light of these shifts in activity, we have added new charts and changed the presentation of some of our usual charts, to aid interpretation. It is also worth noting that NHS England have suspended data collection for 2020/21 and Q1 2021/22 for some of their performance statistics, including delayed transfers of care.

In March 2019, the Clinically-Led Review of NHS Access Standards Interim Report was released, proposing some significant changes to many of the targets reported on here. A six-month Progress Report from the NHS Medical Director was also published in October 2019. Field testing of the proposed new standards began in 2019 and NHS England has recently consulted on the recommendations for urgent and emergency care.

For urgent and emergency care, the field test sites have not been submitting four-hour performance data since May 2019. The time series presented here excludes the field testing sites and so is comparable across months and years. For elective care, performance of the field test sites will continue to be included in the national time series, so the data is fully comparable over time.
For interactive charts showing the quality of health and social care over time, please refer to our 200+ indicators.