The prime minister admitted on Thursday that his ambition to cut waiting lists was now “very hard” after the release of NHS England figures showed the task he was up against.
Rishi Sunak has made cutting waiting lists one of his priorities for 2023, pledging in January that “lists will fall and people will get the care they need more quickly”.
“With industrial action (by doctors), it’s very hard to continue to meet these targets,” he said on a visit to a hospital in Devon.
“For millions of patients across England, the NHS is no longer there for them when they need it,” shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said.
"The NHS is going through the worst crisis in its history... unless we make some big calls we won't have an NHS that's there for us when we need it"
Shadow Health Secretary @wesstreeting calls for reforming the NHS and changing the way it works.@alexisconran | #AlexisConran pic.twitter.com/yatFFBHfmx
— Jeremy Vine On 5 (@JeremyVineOn5) September 14, 2023
How many people are on the NHS waiting list 2023?
There were an estimated 7.68 million people waiting to start treatment at the end of July, up from 7.57 million in June, NHS England has said.
It is the highest number since records began in August 2007.
Latest figures showed that 389,952 people in England were waiting more than 52 weeks to start routine hospital treatment at the end of July, up from 383,083 at the end of June.
Why is the NHS waiting list so high?
The prime minister has blamed hindrances to the NHS on strikes.
“Industrial action obviously makes meeting these targets very challenging,” he said, alluding to walkouts by junior doctors, amongst others.
Meanwhile, Labour has said the Government is to blame. Mr Streeting said on Jeremy Vine’s show: “The NHS is going through the worst crisis in its history... unless we make some big calls, we won’t have an NHS that’s there for us when we need it.”
For millions of patients, the NHS is no longer there for them when they need it.
Rishi Sunak is Inaction Man, refusing to meet with doctors to end NHS strikes and adding to the Tories' NHS backlog.
It will take Labour - the Party of the NHS - to restore it to good health. https://t.co/5RXKWQsccl
— Wes Streeting MP (@wesstreeting) September 14, 2023
How does the NHS waiting list work?
When you’re referred for your first outpatient appointment, according to the NHS, the e-Referral Service lets you book the appointment at a hospital or clinic of your choice, on a date and at a time that suits you.
How are patients on the waiting list prioritised?
Guidance from the NHS states: “The length of time you wait will depend on your specific treatment and clinical needs, and you could be seen quicker or wait longer than the waiting time shown.”
What is the legal maximum waiting time for the NHS?
The NHS says the maximum waiting time for non-urgent, consultant-led treatments is 18 weeks from the day your appointment is booked through the NHS e-Referral Service, or when the hospital or service receives your referral letter.
However, your right to an 18-week waiting time does not apply if you choose to wait longer; delaying the start of your treatment is in your best clinical interests; it is clinically appropriate for your condition to be actively monitored in secondary care without clinical intervention or diagnostic procedures at that stage; you fail to attend appointments that you had chosen from a set of reasonable option, or that the treatment is no longer necessary.
The maximum waiting time for suspected cancer is two weeks from the day your appointment is booked through the NHS e-Referral Service, or when the hospital or service receives your referral letter.
Waiting times can vary between hospitals and the NHS encourages patients to look at comparisons when choosing where to receive their treatment.