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10k extra operations needed each week to meet “fall back” target to stabilise NHS waiting times

Date of publication: 10th Dec 2018

Categories: Latest news

The NHS is falling drastically short of meeting its target to keep waiting lists stable for non-urgent care, such as hip and knee operations, by March 2019. New analysis carried out by the Independent Healthcare Providers Network estimates that an extra 10,216 operations will need to be carried out each week to hit the target – a hugely challenging proposition as the NHS enters the Winter period.

The NHS has now missed its principal waiting time target every month for the past two and a half years to treat over 92% of patients within 18 weeks of referral. In response, NHS England publicly committed in February 2018 that waiting lists would be no larger in March 2019 than in March 2018 – kept stable at 3.84m.

However new analysis has found that the NHS is on track to miss that target by 266,000. This means there are likely to be 4.11 million people waiting in March 2019, or 4.3 million including NHS Trusts who are not currently reporting their waiting times.

February’s planning guidance also committed the NHS to halving the number of people waiting over a year for care from 2755 in March 2018 to 1378 in March 2019. However, the number of long waiters has increased dramatically recently with around 3150 people now waiting more than 12 months for routine care – an almost tenfold increase on 5 years ago.

David Hare, Chief Executive of the Independent Healthcare Providers Network said:

“Earlier this year the NHS made a clear commitment to keep waiting lists stable and to halve the number of people waiting over 52 weeks for treatment – fully funded through allocations made in the Chancellor’s 2017 Budget. However, today’s figures show just how far away the NHS is from achieving these targets which, it’s important to note, fall far short of the clear rights contained in the NHS Constitution for patients to be treated within 18 weeks for vital procedures such as hip operations and cataracts.

“The independent sector has long played a key role in delivering NHS elective care and it is important that the significant spare capacity in the sector is swiftly utilised to ensure the NHS can meet its planning guidance commitments and that patients are not forced to wait unnecessarily long for care.”


Following the 2017 Autumn Budget announcement of an additional £1.6 billion for the NHS to make “significant inroads” in NHS waiting lists, in February this year the 2018/19 NHS Planning Guidance refresh was published stating how this additional money would be spent, including a target for:
• The Referral to Treatment (RTT) waiting list will be no higher in March 2019 than in March 2018;
• The numbers nationally of patients waiting more than 52 weeks for treatment should be halved by March 2019, and locally eliminated wherever possible.