Nuffield Trust: NHS faces battle to keep non-Covid services functioning as normal alongside Covid care this winter

John Appleby responds to the latest monthly NHS performance statistics from NHS England and NHS Improvement.

Press release

Published: 12/11/2020

Responding to the latest monthly NHS performance statistics from NHS England and NHS Improvement, Nuffield Trust Director of Research Professor John Appleby said:

“The position of the NHS going into its traditionally busiest months is a cause for real concern. Given the increasing need to treat Covid patients and the strong desire to keep as many non-Covid services functioning as normal, NHS staff will have a huge battle on their hands over winter.

“The growing scale of the challenge is evident. By the end of October, there were 9,782 hospital beds occupied by Covid patients, up from just over 2,000 at the end of September. These numbers are continuing to grow rapidly.

“It is clear that over the summer months NHS staff have put in tremendous amounts of work to boost activity across the board while continuing to adhere to and enforce the Covid safety measures to protect patients and staff. However, the service has fallen short of the tall order of recovering all non-Covid activity between the two waves of this pandemic.

“Unable to catch up, the number of patients now waiting longer than a year for treatment has been pushed to the highest level in 12 years. Unfortunately, these numbers waiting longer for care will likely increase given the recent shutdowns in some elective care we have seen in some English regions.

“Worryingly, the reported waiting list figure of 4.35m people could underestimate unmet need as some people who should be seeking care continue to avoid accessing services. Even as tighter restrictions came in October, we have seen a slight fall in people seeking emergency care since the summer, and it remains well below the levels of previous years. There is a genuine risk the new lockdown measures could once again put off people from seeking the care they need.”

Notes to editors

  • The latest monthly combined performance figures from NHS England can be found at:
  • 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.
  • For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact Simon Keen on 07780 475 571 or