Surgeons warn after waiting list in England hits record 7.7m

Surgeons have warned that patients left to wait many months for treatment may see their health deteriorate further due to the peak in NHS waiting lists.

Latest NHS performance data shows the waiting list for NHS consultant-led hospital treatment increased to another record high. 

There were 7,679,851 people on the waiting list at the end of July 2023. Patients will be waiting for treatment ranging from hip replacements to surgery to remove cancerous tumours. 

Mr Tim Mitchell

Mr Tim Mitchell, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said: ‘With the NHS facing record waiting lists while preparing for yet another difficult winter, the £200m in funding from Government to support services through peak months, alongside £40m for increased social care capacity, is welcome and will help. That said, the task remains mammoth and lives continue to be impacted.’ 

He pointed to the Care Quality Commission (CQC) annual survey of hospital inpatients, published last week, which found two-in-five people admitted to hospital for planned care in England last year had their health worsen while they were on waiting lists. 

The performance data, alongside the CQC’s findings, served as ‘a stark reminder of the challenges faced by patients’.

Mr Mitchell added: ‘NHS staff continue to do all that they can to reduce waiting lists amid extremely challenging circumstances. The latest jump is disappointing but not unexpected, as increased demand, record staff vacancies and industrial action continue to hamper recovery efforts.’

He warned: ‘Many lives will be impacted by longer waiting times, whether that be through an inability to work while waiting for treatment, suffering in pain or deteriorating health. Long waits may also lead to the need for more complex operations when patients finally receive treatment.’

The college leader called for continued investment in surgical hubs, which were separate from emergency services in hospitals and allowed tests and operations to continue in one place, unaffected by increased pressure in other parts of the hospital. 

‘There has been good progress in setting these up since the pandemic. We’d like to see one in every area of the country, particularly those facing the longest waiting lists.’