Nuffield Trust: Millions of patients will face long waits for treatment for some considerable time to come

Sarah Scobie responds to the latest monthly NHS performance statistics and weekly sit rep data.

Press release

Published: 10/02/2022

Responding to the latest NHS England and NHS Improvement monthly performance stats and weekly sit rep data, Nuffield Trust Deputy Director of Research Sarah Scobie said:

“The government and the NHS in England have set out plans this week to grapple with the huge care backlog. But these figures show that sadly millions of patients and their families will be waiting anxiously or in pain for routine or planned surgery for some considerable time to come.

“In the most recent weekly data, the NHS will be relieved to see staff absences falling back during January. But across the system, the Omicron wave fuelled high and prolonged levels of Covid-19 admissions. Alongside widespread staff absences, this has impacted the efforts of staff to reduce the number of patients facing these longest waits.

“By the end of 2021, the number of patients waiting for over two years for treatment was still going in the wrong direction, reaching 20,065. The number of patients waiting over one year for treatment is over 200 times higher than pre-pandemic levels and given we do not know the exact level of unmet need out there, it is likely to be extremely difficult to eliminate one year waits by March 2025.

“Even patients using protected services and needing urgent care for cancer are impacted. In December last year, 33% of patients waited over 62 days to start their first treatment for cancer following an urgent GP referral, this is another undesired record.

“The only way that the health and system can catch up is by delivering many more operations, scans and procedures than it can currently, and could before the pandemic.

Notes to editors

The latest monthly combined performance figures from NHS England can be found at:

About Nuffield Trust

  1. The Nuffield Trust is an independent health think tank. We aim to improve the quality of health care in the UK by providing evidence-based research and policy analysis and informing and generating debate.

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