NHS England has declared the highest surgery waiting list numbers in a decade, with figures exceeding 4 million.
The rise has been attributed to growing patient demand coupled with an increase in the number of procedures performed by the NHS. It follows a decision by NHS England in March 2017 to relax rules stating that 92% of patients should be treated by a consultant within 18 weeks.
President of the Society for Acute Medicine, Doctor Mark Holland, highlighted the need for a ‘proper strategic plan’ to enable the NHS to meet its targets. He noted that ‘every unresolved problem impacts on another area’, underscoring the extensive pressures that lengthened waiting times could add to other health services.
Four-hour waiting time targets for A&E departments and urgent cancer care referrals are amongst the additional targets the NHS is struggling to meet.
Speaking of the growing strain on the health service, John Appleby, Director of Research and Chief Economist at Nuffield Trust, said: ‘This puts the NHS on the back foot as we approach winter, with problems both at the “front door” of A&E departments and at the “back door”, as hospitals struggle to send people home or on to further care.’
As of June 2016, England has seen an increase of more than 21% in the number of patients waiting longer than 18 weeks for surgery.
A spokesperson for NHS England commented: ‘Last month, 1.4 million patients started consultant-led treatment and more than nine out of 10 patients were waiting less than 18 weeks.‘We're working hard to cut long waits, and the number of patients waiting over a year for treatment has dropped by nearly 13,000 since March 2011 to being just over 1,500 now.’