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This blog post was published under the 2015-2024 Conservative Administration

How we're tackling the NHS backlog

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**This fact sheet was last updated on 23 April 2024 and will not be updated again until the pre-election period has concluded.**


**The latest data on NHS operational performance can be found here.


Health and Social Care Secretary Victoria Atkins said:

“We’re working tirelessly to reduce the overall NHS waiting list, which has fallen by almost 200,000 over the past five months – the biggest five-month fall in the waiting list in over 10 years outside the pandemic.

“This is an incredible achievement in light of the pressures of industrial action, with NHS analysis estimating that the waiting list could have fallen by a further almost 36,000 in February without strikes, and by an extra 430,000 overall since December 2022.

“The latest statistics also show an improvement in 4-hour A&E waiting times despite rising emergency admissions, which is credit to our relentless drive to improve access to NHS care and make it faster, simpler and fairer for all patients.”

What are the key stats?

  • Statistics show that the total waiting list remained flat compared to January at 7.54 million. This is a decrease of 36,000 pathways compared to January, but when factoring in the impact of changes in reporting of community service pathways, the waiting list remains flat on a like-for-like basis.
  • Thanks to the incredible work of NHS staff, NHSE management information shows that as of March 2024, we have virtually eliminated waits of over 18 months.

Why have you changed the rules for who is on the waiting list?

  • We’ve changed the rules to better consolidate the overall picture of community services and care. Community services which are non-consultant led were already counted separately and not included in the referral to treatment (RTT) waiting list, so it makes sense to also count the community paediatric pathways with them. This helps our ability to monitor their performance and provide targeted support to these services.

How is the NHS going to ensure patients still on the list are treated as soon as possible?

  • The NHS is working incredibly hard to ensure those who have been waiting the longest receive treatment as soon as possible, and staff are going above and beyond to make this happen.
  • In July 2022, the NHS successfully met the first target in our plan to virtually eliminate waits of over two years (104 weeks) - excluding patients waiting by choice or due to complex specialties.
  • As part of the Elective Recovery Plan, the NHS is using innovative initiatives to treat more patients, including 100 surgical hubs.
  • 160 sites are also now delivering community diagnostic centre (CDC) activity, having delivered almost 8 million additional checks, scans, and tests since July 2021, better ‘pre-hab’ to prepare patients ahead of surgery to cut recovery times and innovative technology such as surgical robots and safer X-ray scanners. This is supported by mutual aid – which involves transferring patients who are willing to travel to alternative providers with a shorter waiting time.
  • The NHS is maximising the use of the independent sector and implementing additional measures such as weekend and evening working.
  • In August 2023, the government’s Elective Recovery Taskforce set out a plan to maximise independent sector capacity to treat NHS patients more quickly. Made up of academics and experts from the NHS and independent sector, the taskforce looked for ways to go further to bust the COVID-19 backlogs and reduce waiting times for patients.
  • In May 2023, we announced that patients will be empowered to choose where they receive their NHS care under new plans to help cut waiting lists.
  • After speaking with their GP, patients will be able to view information for a minimum of 5 providers where possible, with information about waiting times, distance to travel and quality to help them make their choice.
  • On 31 October 2023, patients waiting over 40 weeks for either a date for a first outpatient appointment, or a date for a first treatment if a decision to admit has been made, were invited to initiate a request to transfer to another provider and receive treatment more quickly through the Patient Initiated Digital Mutual Aid System (PIDMAS).
  • This progress builds on the success of NHS staff in meeting the first elective recovery target, with waits of more than two years virtually eliminated by July last year.

What plans are in place to help patients who are coming forward for more treatment?

  • As with other health services around the world, backlogs have inevitably built up because patients were understandably deterred from coming forward for help during the COVID pandemic.
  • There are currently 7.54 million people on the waiting list for NHS care. We urge anyone who is worried about their health or who is experiencing concerning symptoms to come forward.
  • With only one in five patients on the waiting lists requiring a hospital admission – and most others waiting for scans or checks – we are expanding our diagnostic capacity including through the rollout of community diagnostic centres, which allow patients to receive tests close to home.

Will there be extra funding to support the recovery of services?

  • We are investing record levels of funding into the NHS – nearly £165 billion a year by the end of this Parliament, up 13% in real terms compared to 2019.
  • The government is spending over £8 billion over three years, from 2022 to 2025, to protect and drive up additional elective activity.
  • In addition, the government has committed to a £5.9 billion investment in NHS capital over three years, to provide new beds, equipment and technology. This includes:
  • £2.3 billion to increase diagnostic activity and roll out up to 160 Community Diagnostic Centres
  • £2.1 billion to modernise digital technology on the frontline
  • £1.5 billion towards Elective Recovery by expanding capacity.
  • We are spending up to £7.5 billion over two years to support adult social care and help discharge patients from hospital. This historic funding boost will put the adult social care system on a stronger financial footing and help local authorities address waiting lists and workforce pressures in the sector.

Do you have the workforce to deliver this plan?

  • We are boosting the NHS workforce with record numbers of staff working in the NHS.
  • Our historic NHS Long Term Workforce Plan will retain and recruit hundreds of thousands more staff alongside harnessing technology to reform the way we work and save staff time.
  • Backed by over £2.4 billion, it sets out how the NHS will address existing vacancies and meet the challenges of a growing and aging population over the next 15 years and reforming the way we work.
  • As of January 2024, there are record levels of staff, including record numbers of doctors and nurses, with almost 1.34 million full-time equivalent staff working in NHS trusts and other core organisations in England.
  • There are over 7,000 (5.3%) more doctors and over 21,000 (6.5%) more nurses in the NHS compared to January last year.
  • We have reached the government’s target of 50,000 additional nurses. This means we have delivered on the government’s manifesto commitment six months early, with, as of January 2024, over 363,000 nurses working across the NHS – over 62,000 more than September 2019.

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