Milestone in tackling NHS longest waits - our response

NHS England has achieved the first milestone in its plan to eliminate backlogs caused by Covid. Read our response.
NHS waiting times

As part of its Elective Recovery Plan, NHS England (NHSE) committed to seeing all people who had been waiting for treatment for two years and over by July.

Thanks to the hard work and innovation of doctors, nurses, therapists, physios and other NHS staff, the number of long waiters has been reduced to just under 200 (1,579 people opted to defer treatment and 1,030 are very complex cases, as set out in the plan).

This reduction in the backlog has been delivered despite higher levels of Covid, with hospitals treating more than 220,000 patients with the virus since the plan was published in February.

A record 6.6 million people are still waiting for hospital treatment. Eliminating 18-month waits by April 2023 is next on the government's agenda.

Our response 

Commenting on the announcement, Louise Ansari, our national director said:

“Staff across the NHS have gone to huge efforts to reduce the numbers of patients waiting over two years for treatment and it’s right that we take a moment to recognise this achievement.

“But this is a marathon rather than a sprint. We have millions more people waiting for care and the NHS needs to ensure it’s doing everything it can to support people whilst they wait. 

“This means we need to see more support with pain relief, more support for people’s mental health and an extra focus on ensuring the NHS actively address health inequalities when managing waiting lists.”

Our recommendations 

Last year, the Healthwatch network set out recommendations to NHSE on how to improve the experience of people waiting for treatment, as part of their plan to tackle the NHS backlog. Thanks to your feedback we could identify that many people and their loved ones were not getting the help and information they needed while they were waiting for care, making them feel anxious, ignored and forgotten.

We are pleased to see that NHSE has listened to many of your concerns and that our asks were key to the plan’s recommendations, including offering transport and accommodation where patients waiting over two years choose to travel for care to specialised hubs.

Now NHSE needs to extend the offer to the other six million people currently on its waiting lists – or at least to the one year waiters.

Read our recommendations to help tackle the NHS backlog in a report by Healthwatch England Health Disparities: waiting for planned care briefing.