NHS hospital bosses need a plan to reduce long waiting lists as over 220,000 patients have been held from starting treatment for more than six months, the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) has said.
NHS England’s ‘Referral to Treatment’ (RTT) statistics for January 2019, published today, showed that 4.16 million patients were waiting to start treatment at the end of January.
Of those, 552,219 had been waiting for over 18 weeks, and only 86.7% had been seen within 18 weeks, falling short of the Government’s target of 92% – a target that hasn’t been met since February 2016.
NHS England’s figures also revealed that as of the end of January, 36,857 patients had been waiting over nine months, a 38.7% increase on the same period last year.
More than 2,157 patients waited over one year (52 weeks) to start treatment, up from 1,869 at the end of January last year.
Providers and commissioners who are found in breach of the 52 week-waits standard could both incur into fines of £2,500 per breach, NHS England announced in January.
Cancer waiting times
Hospitals have also missed three cancer waiting time targets. NHS cancer waiting times for January, also released today, show that:
- ‘91.7% of people were seen by a specialist within two weeks of an urgent GP referral for suspected cancer’ – falling short of the 93% target
- ‘95.4% of people treated began first definitive treatment within 31 days of receiving their diagnosis’ – falling short of the 96% target
- ‘76.2% of people treated began first definitive treatment within 62 days of being urgently referred for suspected cancer by their GP’ – falling short of the 85% target
NHS England has proposed changes to NHS waiting times across elective, mental health, emergency and cancer care but suggested in an interim report published on 11 March to keep the 62 day wait from GP referral target.
‘Resources are already stretched to breaking point’
Commenting on today’s figures, RCS president Professor Derek Alderson said: ‘While we support NHS England’s plans to pilot new targets and measurements that could improve care, changing targets will not solve the underlying challenges our health service faces.
‘There is an urgent need for a plan to deal with the increasing backlog of patients on the planned care waiting list and we will work with NHS England to bring this about. Part of this plan must be a commitment to increase hospital bed capacity.’
Today’s figures also showed that hospitals failed to meet the four-hour A&E waiting time target, as only 84.2% of patients were seen within the target in February, the worst month since records began in 2004.
NHS Providers director of policy Miriam Deakin said: ‘The figures released today show that February has been a particularly tough month for the NHS with performance against A&E and cancer standards falling to an all-time low.
‘It is the first time since all three of the key cancer standards have been missed – two week referral; 31 day treatment from decision to treat and 62 day from referral to treatment. Overall, the NHS is now missing seven out of the nine cancer key standards.’