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Surgeons call for reform and funding as NHS waiting lists remain high

14 Mar 2024

Latest figures show NHS waiting lists decreased slightly for the fourth month in a row in January, but remained high.  
NHS performance data1 published today (14 March) shows the waiting list for consultant-led hospital treatment in England fell to 7.58 million at the end of January 2024.  
Some patients are on multiple pathways. The number of unique patients is estimated to be around 6.32 million, according to NHS England. Patients will be waiting for orthopaedic operations such as hip and knee replacements and general surgeries such as hernia repairs and gallbladder removal. Some patients will also be waiting for surgery to remove cancerous tumours. 
Performance against the 18 week target continues to be the worst for ear, nose and throat treatment, as figures continue to show variation in performance by different medical and surgical specialty. 
Responding to today’s performance data, Mr Tim Mitchell, President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England (RCS England) and consultant Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) surgeon said: 
“No area of healthcare is immune to the immense challenges facing the NHS. 
“Waiting times for outpatient appointments are particularly high as there is a large backlog.  That means patients are waiting longer for treatments such as ear, nose or throat surgery - like fitting grommets to improve hearing in children - and surgeons are struggling to keep up with demand. 
“It is imperative that in the upcoming general election political parties set out detailed plans for how they will properly fund and support ongoing reform of the NHS. This includes continuing with NHS plans to reform outpatient services and supporting the roll-out of dedicated surgical hubs which help to protect operating theatres and staff time for patients requiring planned surgery. 
“These changes are vital for making sure patients are not left waiting in limbo. Long waits for patients waiting for ear, nose or throat treatment can mean hearing problems, pain, infections, and a reduced quality of life.” 
Notes to editors: 
1. NHS performance statistics on referral to treatment waiting times published today are available here: 
2. RCS England is calling for additional general and acute ‘core’ beds opened in 2023/24 to be retained year round. 
3. NHS England Delivery plan for recovering urgent and emergency care services:  
4. Advancing the Surgical Workforce: 2023 UK Surgical Workforce Census Report:   
5. NHS England’s Delivery plan for tackling the COVID-19 backlog of elective care:  
6. There were 7,575,914 RTT pathways where a patient was waiting to start treatment at the end of January 2024. Some patients are on multiple pathways. The number of unique patients is estimated to be around 6.3 million. According to NHS England, this is based on analysis of the Waiting List Minimum Data Set (WLMDS), which showed that the ratio of unique NHS numbers to pathways on 4 February 2024 was 83:100. The WLMDS extract was taken on 7 March 2024, which includes data up to 25 February 2024.   
7. The Royal College of Surgeons of England provides world-class education, assessment, and development to 30,000 surgeons, dental professionals, and members of the wider surgical and dental care teams, at all stages of their careers. Our vision is to see excellent surgical care for everyone. We do this by setting professional standards, facilitating research and championing the best outcomes for patients. 
8. For more information, please contact the Press Office: Telephone: 020 7869 6053/6054/6047; Email:; Out-of-hours media enquiries: 0207 869 6056. 



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