NHS ‘must take urgent action’ to clear hospitals backlog

NHS ‘must take urgent action’ to clear backlog of patients needing surgery as nearly 230,00 people have been waiting at least six months for treatment

  • The Royal College of Surgeons has warned too many patients face long waits
  • It found more than 36,000 patients have been waiting more than nine months
  • And the damning figures have risen despite a ‘mild’ winter this year 

Nearly a quarter of a million NHS patients – 227,569 people – have been waiting more than six months for treatment, figures have revealed.

Experts said there is an ‘urgent need’ to clear the ‘increasing backlog’ of patients who need hospital treatment, and the NHS needs new beds to cope with them.

Statistics today revealed there are 4.16million people in England waiting for treatment – a number second only to 4.18m in October last year. 

As hospitals are buckling under the pressure of growing demand despite a ‘mild’ winter, A&E and cancer treatment waiting times have also hit all-time worsts. 

There are more than 227,000 people on the NHS waiting list, which has risen to 4.16million patients, who have been waiting for six months or more for their treatment (stock image)

Figures published today revealed the number of people waiting beyond NHS target times to start their treatment is rising.

A total of 36,857 people on the waiting list have been on it for nine months or more, although the number waiting for more than a year is falling.

‘The backlog of patients waiting to start treatment continues to grow,’ said Professor Derek Alderson, president of the Royal College of Surgeons.  

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‘There are now over 100,000 more patients waiting longer than 18 weeks to start treatment when compared with the same time last year.

‘While we support NHS England’s plans to pilot new targets and measurements that could improve care, changing targets will not solve the underlying challenges our health service faces.

‘With the worst of winter now hopefully behind us, there is an urgent need for a plan to deal with the increasing backlog of patients on the planned care waiting list and we will work with NHS England to bring this about.

‘Part of this plan must be a commitment to increase hospital bed capacity.’

The figures came as it was revealed A&E waiting times were the worst ever in February, after already setting a new record low in January.

Just 84.2 per cent of patients were seen within the four-hour waiting time limit, below the NHS target of 95 per cent.

And multiple cancer waiting time targets have been breached – one of them for the first time.

Some 4.6 per cent of cancer patients – 1,250 people – had to wait more than a month to start cancer treatment after being diagnosed and told they needed therapy.

The NHS aims to keep this figure below four per cent and January was the first time it had ever been breached – the figure was almost double the 670 patients in December. 

Another target – that of treating 85 per cent of patients within 62 days of their doctor’s referral – has been breached for the 37th month in a row.

This figure was 76.2 per cent in January, the lowest ever. And it meant 3,321 patients starting treatment in that month had already waited more than eight weeks. 


Almost one in four patients with cancer do not start treatment on time – the worst performance on record, today’s figures show. 

And the health service is failing to hit six out of its eight cancer targets, according to The King’s Fund think-tank.

At least 85 per cent of patients are meant to start cancer treatment within 62 days of an urgent GP referral, but in January only 76.2 per cent of people did so.

This target has now been missed for 37 months in a row.  

And in January 1,250 people had to wait for more than a month to start treatment after they had already been diagnosed and told they needed therapy.

This represented 4.6 per cent of patients and made it the first month ever the health service had breached its 4 per cent maximum.

Professor John Appleby, of the Nuffield Trust think-tank said: ‘In January almost a quarter of cancer patients waited longer than two months to start treatment following a GP urgent referral, which is a sharp and concerning spike compared to previous months. 

‘These measures show the sheer weight of pressure that NHS staff are facing on a daily basis and will understandably worry patients at a very difficult time.’

Macmillan Cancer Support’s Dr Fran Woodward added: ‘More than 127,000 people have been left waiting too long to start vital treatment throughout [the past five years]. 

‘Behind the numbers are real people who tell us how delays cause real anxiety for them and their loved ones at a time when they are already trying to deal with the many worries cancer is throwing their way.’


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