Surgeons call for more beds year-round to bring down NHS waiting lists
08 Feb 2024
The Royal College of Surgeons of England (RCS England) has called for the additional beds1 opened in hospitals this winter to be retained year-round to help bring down NHS waiting lists for planned treatment. They have also said some of these beds should be ringfenced for surgery.
The call comes as NHS performance data2 published today (8 February) shows the waiting list for consultant-led hospital treatment in England fell for the third consecutive month to 7.6 million at the end of December 2023. Some patients are on multiple pathways. The number of unique patients is estimated to be around 6.4 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.
Today marks two years to the day since NHS England’s Delivery plan for tackling the COVID-19 backlog of elective care5 was published (8 February 2022). In December 2021, the total waiting list stood at 6.07 million. The list has risen by more than 1.5 million since then.
Responding to today’s performance data and talking about the need for more beds. Professor Peter Friend, Vice President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said:
“It has been two years to the day since NHS England published its plan for recovering elective care. Despite the incredible efforts of NHS staff, we haven’t seen any significant improvement in waiting times and today the list stands at 7.6 million.
“RCS England’s workforce census confirmed that this is due in large part to a lack of resources such as operating theatres, nursing and theatre staff, and beds for surgical patients. The establishment of more surgical hubs has introduced much welcome extra capacity, but the reality is, to make a dent in waiting times, we need more.
“Patients are still forced to wait too long treatment. In the upcoming Budget the government must put forward funds to make sure additional hospital beds that have been made available this winter are retained year-round, with a proportion ringfenced for surgical patients.”
NHS England’s delivery plan for recovering urgent and emergency care services3 (published in January 2023) committed to introducing 5,000 more staffed, “sustainable beds” in 2023/24 than compared to the originally planned levels of beds in 2022/23. Last month NHS England announced this target had been achieved. RCS England would like to see these beds retained, with some dedicated to patients coming into hospital for planned surgery.
RCS England’s recent report, Advancing the Surgical Workforce: 2023 UK Surgical Workforce Census Report4, highlighted a shortage of beds for surgical patients as one of the challenges contributing to long waiting times, in addition to staff shortages and problems accessing operating theatres.
Notes to editors:
- RCS England is calling for additional general and acute ‘core’ beds opened in 2023/24 to be retained year round.
- NHS performance statistics on referral to treatment waiting times published today are available here: https://www.england.nhs.uk/statistics/statistical-work-areas/rtt-waiting-times/rtt-data-2023-24/
- NHS England Delivery plan for recovering urgent and emergency care services: https://www.england.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/B2034-delivery-plan-for-recovering-urgent-and-emergency-care-services.pdf
- Advancing the Surgical Workforce: 2023 UK Surgical Workforce Census Report: https://www.rcseng.ac.uk/standards-and-research/surgical-workforce-census/
- NHS England’s Delivery plan for tackling the COVID-19 backlog of elective care: https://www.england.nhs.uk/coronavirus/publication/delivery-plan-for-tackling-the-covid-19-backlog-of-elective-care/
- There were 7,603,675 RTT pathways where a patient was waiting to start treatment at the end of December 2023. Some patients are on multiple pathways. The number of unique patients is estimated to be around 6.4 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 31st December 2023 was 84:100. The WLMDS extract was taken on 2 February 2024, which includes data up to 28 January 2024.
- 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.
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