NHS backlog hits record high in England with 6.5 million patients awaiting treatment

Thursday 9 November 2023

NHS waiting lists in England have hit a record high as new figures show that more than a million patients are on more than one waiting list.

The overall waiting list hit a new high of 7.77 million at the end of September – up from 7.75 million at the end of August, according to NHS England data.

But officials have said this figure is actually made up of 6.5 million individual patients, meaning that more than a million patients are waiting for more than one treatment.

The overall waiting list is at its highest point since records began in August 2007 and comes despite Prime Minister Rishi Sunak saying cutting waiting lists is one of his priorities.

Picket line of consultants and junior doctors outside St Thomas' Hospital. Credit: Kristian Buus/In Pictures

The figures come after it emerged that hospitals in England will be allowed to cut back on some pre-planned care to cover the costs of strikes in the NHS.

A total of 391,122 people in England had been waiting more than 52 weeks to start routine hospital treatment at the end of September, down from 396,643 at the end of August.

Health commentators warned that the performance figures could mean the NHS is facing a “bleak” winter.

Professor Sir Stephen Powis, NHS England’s national medical director, said: “Today’s figures are a stark reminder of the ongoing pressures the NHS is facing particularly in emergency care - with significant demand for ambulances and A&E.

"We head into what we are expecting to be another challenging winter in the health service."

Dr Tim Cooksley of the Society for Acute Medicine commented: “With a sense of tragic inevitability, the data shows a spiral of decline that will mean patients will endure long waits, degrading corridor care and inevitable harm over the upcoming winter months.”

Striking members of the BMA and UNIT trade unions march around Royal London Hospital on October 4, 2023. Credit: Guy Smallman/Getty Images)

The unprecedented industrial action which has beset the NHS since December last year has led to a bill of more than £1 billion for the health service in England.

But it is understood that only four fifths of the cost will be footed through various sources and one measure proposed to balance the books is cutting back on pre-planned care.

The Government and NHS England have set the ambition of eliminating all waits of more than a year by March 2025.