Almost 10 million people in England could be on NHS waiting list

Almost 10 million people across England could be waiting for an NHS appointment or treatment, 2 million more than previously estimated, according to a survey by the Office for National Statistics.

The ONS survey of about 90,000 adults found that 21% of patients were waiting for a hospital appointment or to start receiving treatment on the NHS.

When extrapolated, this equates to 9.7 million people. In January, the waiting list stood at 7.6 million, according to official NHS statistics.

The survey found that the delays were most prominent among 16-24-year-olds, one in five of whom said they had experienced waiting times of more than a year.

Conducted in January and February, the survey was part of the annual winter coronavirus infection study of adults aged 16 and over.

The ONS said the survey was the first of its kind to assess the experiences of adults awaiting hospital appointments, tests or medical treatments. It said the data was experimental, based on self-reported data, and may differ from other statistics on waiting lists.

Andrew Gwynne, the shadow health minister, said: “Pull back the cover and the crisis in the NHS is even worse than it appeared. One in every five people in England are stuck on waiting lists, and they are waiting longer than ever before.

“Rishi Sunak has broken his pledge to cut waiting lists, and now he’s planning to close services and cut doctors and nurses. The longer the Conservatives remain in office, the longer patients wait.

“Only Labour has a plan to cut waiting lists. We will provide 2m more operations and appointments at evenings and weekends, so patients are seen on time again.”

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Sir Julian Hartley, the chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “No patient should have to wait any longer than necessary for the care they need, especially since worsening conditions can lead to increased physical, emotional or mental distress.

“Hospital, mental health and community trusts are working incredibly hard to bear down on backlogs and deliver timely, high-quality patient care. But they are up against deep-rooted challenges including workforce shortages and a lack of physical capacity across the NHS and social care.”

The ONS survey also found that one in 20 people who called their GP were told to call back another day. A third of respondents found it “difficult or very difficult” to get in touch with their GP practice.

On average, the NHS offers about 1.4m GP appointments every working day, according to NHS England.

An NHS spokesperson said: “The official published statistics on NHS waiting lists actually show 6.3 million patients were on NHS waiting lists as of the end of January and only 4.2% of waits were over a year.

“Work is ongoing to reduce the longest waits for patients, but despite pressures and industrial action, hardworking NHS staff ensured the Covid backlog has fallen for four months in a row and 18-month waits are down almost 90% on their peak.

“In terms of GP care, almost two-thirds of people are happy with their experience, and millions more are being given appointments compared to before the pandemic. The latest NHS data shows there were 30.5m appointments delivered by GPs and their teams in February 2024, compared with 24.7m in February 2020.”

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