How we're tackling the NHS backlog

From: Department of Health and Social Care Media Centre
Published: Thu May 11 2023


The NHS has cut 18-month waits for routine treatment by more than 91% - a significant reduction from the peak which saw almost 125,000 people waiting for treatment in 2021, despite industrial action and a challenging winter.

Cutting waiting lists is one of the government's five key priorities, and we are delivering on our Elective Recovery Plan to tackle the Covid backlog, starting with the longest waits.

What are the key stats?

  • The number of patients waiting 18 months has reduced to 10,737 since the peak of 124,911 in September 2021.
  • Since December 2022 alone, 18-month waits have fallen by more than four-fifths, from 54,882.
  • Since February 2022, more than 2 million people who would otherwise have breached 18 months have been treated.
  • Tens of thousands of those waiting the longest have received vital treatment, including knee and hip replacements.
  • Last year we met the first target to virtually eliminate two-year waits.
  • The next target in the plan is eliminating waits of over 65 weeks by March 2024.To help achieve this, the government is backing health and social care services with record funding, including up to 14.1 billion over the next two years.

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.
  • As part of the Elective Recovery Plan, the NHS is using innovative initiatives to treat more patients, including 94 surgical hubs, 106 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.
  • The NHS is maximising the use of the independent sector and implementing additional measures such as weekend and evening working.
  • 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.

Why do so many patients who wait more than 18 months not have a first appointment scheduled?

  • We have been working very closely with the NHS to ensure that all long-wait patients have a date booked for their treatment. However, in some specialties specific challenges exist, which means not all 18-month patients yet have appointments booked.
  • As well as capacity issues, long waits can be impacted by:
    • Patients who have been offered a choice of another provider, but have declined this offer and want to remain with their local hospital.
    • Where it would not be clinically safe to move a patient to another provider, or where the procedure is clinically complex and can only be done on that site or by that clinician. This can only be determined by a clinician who has reviewed the patient record and spoken with the patient.

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 more than 7.3 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 tackle the elective backlog.
  • 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.
  • This overall funding plans to deliver 9 million more checks, scans and procedures over the next three years and will mean the NHS can aim to deliver 30% more elective activity by March 2025 than before the pandemic.
  • 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 and we will soon publish a comprehensive workforce strategy to recruit and retain more staff.
  • In February 2023 over 5,300 more doctors and over 12,300 more nurses worked in NHS trusts and commissioning bodies compared to February 2022.
Company: Department of Health and Social Care Media Centre

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