Government waiting-list plan is ‘challenging’, say surgeons

Surgeons have warned a ‘big challenge’ lies ahead for the NHS to eliminate the number of people waiting more than two years for consultant-led hospital treatment by July. 

The Royal College of Surgeons of England was responding to new figures showing a record 20,065 people waiting more than two years for treatment in December 2021 and 6.07m people on the waiting list overall.

The Elective Recovery Plan, published last week, set out the Government’s plan for reducing the backlog in elective care that has built up through the pandemic, along with new targets including:

  • By July 2022, no one will wait longer than two years for an elective (planned) treatment;
  • The NHS will aim to eliminate waits of over 18 months by April 2023;
  • Returning the number of people waiting more than 62 days from an urgent referral back to pre-pandemic levels by March 2023;
  • Eliminating waits of longer than a year for elective care by March 2025.

Miss Fiona Mint

Miss Fiona Myint, college vice-president said: ‘These figures for December show just how stretching the Government’s targets are. The number of patients waiting for elective treatment such as hip, knee or hernia surgery reached another record total of 6.07m. Within this, 20,065 patients were waiting more than two years for hospital treatment.

‘NHS staff were working around the clock in December to deliver the booster programme. Thankfully, today, more planned operations are able to happen and we have started making progress on these very long waits.’  

Miss Myint, a consultant vascular surgeon, added: ‘But we are also caring for more than 13,500 patients in hospitals across the country with Covid-19. We have staff off sick with the virus and the persistent problem of around 100,000 staff vacancies. We are not out of the woods yet. Eliminating two-year waits remains a big challenge.’

The longest waits were for trauma and orthopaedic treatment (4,467), followed by general surgery (2,368) and ENT treatment (2,475).

NHS performance statistics published today are available here.

The Elective Recovery Plan is available in full by clicking here.