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How we're tackling the NHS backlog

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*Updated 15 March 2024*


Health and Social Care Secretary, Victoria Atkins said:

“Our commitment to cutting waiting times is unwavering and thanks to the hard work of our fantastic NHS staff, overall waiting lists have dropped for the fourth month in a row – decreasing by a total of 192,000 since September.

“This has been achieved despite disruptive strikes and record winter pressures on our NHS services.

“We are determined to continue improving experiences for patients and making access to care faster, simpler and fairer. We are making progress in reducing A&E waiting times, including adding an extra 5,000 permanent staffed beds this winter to increase capacity and help patients be seen as quickly as possible.”

What are the key stats?

  • The total waiting list fell by approximately 28,000 in January 2024.
  • The NHS then worked hard to deliver the next ambition to eliminate waits of 18 months or more. As of January 2024, waits of 18 months have been reduced by almost 90% since September 2021. Within this, 112 trusts have virtually eliminated waits of 18 months or more.


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, 155 community diagnostic centres, 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.
  • They have already delivered over 7 million additional tests, checks and scans across the country.
  • 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 7.58 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?

  • 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 December 2023, there are record levels of staff, including record numbers of doctors and nurses, with almost 1.33 million full-time equivalent staff working in NHS trusts and other core organisations in England.
  • There are almost 6,800 (5.1%) more doctors and over 21,500 (6.7%) more nurses in the NHS compared to December 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 December 2023, almost 361,000 nurses working across the NHS – over 60,000 more than September 2019.

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