If you have ever been referred for treatment on the NHS, it is more than likely that you have experienced a wait-list. While this can be frustrating, wait list times can be expected when the public health system faces strains and shortages. Understanding the factors that have caused the long wait times can be confusing and difficult at times, so we have outlined some of the contributing factors. 

More patients than ever are waiting for treatment in the UK

Long waiting times in the UK for treatment is nothing new. Before the Covid-19 pandemic began, there were already 4.43 million people waiting for care. However, during the initial outbreak there was actually a drop in the waiting list – this was due to a combination of the suspension in non-urgent surgery and the changes in individuals behavior, leading to the number of people joining the waiting list dropping. 

However, the current waiting times are at a record high – higher than pre-covid 19. The following data from July 2022 represents the current waiting time in the UK:

  • Over 6.84 million people waiting for treatment 
  • 2.67 million patients have been waiting longer than 18 weeks for treatment
  • 337,689 patients have waited over a year for treatment
  • A median wait time of 13.3 weeks – significantly higher than pre pandemic levels.

The backlog is growing

There is a hidden backlog growing that is not yet visible to the health services – this unknown backlog consists of patients who require treatment, but have not yet presented with issues or have had referrals canceled due to the pandemic.

Patients who in regular times would have been referred for treatment, would have undergone elective care and then attended outpatient appointments – but as a result of the pandemic they have not yet found their way back into the health system. 

The number of elective and outpatient services being carried out is still significantly below pre-pandemic levels. These backlogs will likely lead to the worsening of conditions and increase the already insurmountable pressure that the NHS is already under.

Patients are waiting longer than ever for emergency care 

The A&E waiting times in the UK have worsened substantially over the past number of years, after a decade of insufficient funding to the public health services that has failed to keep up with the increase in demand. 

This is not a new issue for the NHS. During the winter of 2019/2020 the NHS A&E four hour target reached an all time low. Since the pandemic, A&E performance has naturally increased, however since lockdown rules have been eased, there has been a significant demand in A&E demand – there was a total of 1.98 million A&E attendees in August 2022, highlighting the necessity for there to sufficient funding in this area.

Lack of capacity making it harder for GPs to make referrals 

There is compounding evidence to support that hospitals are rejecting new GP referrals to outpatient services.  The number of unsuccessful GP referrals to outpatient services has jumped from 238,859 in February 2020, to a staggering 401,115 in November 2021 (an 87% increase). 

When GP’s are unable to refer to hospital services, the care for these patients doesn’t disappear! Instead these patients have to be cared for by GP’s, while their wait for hospital treatment continues – adding extra strains to an already under funded primary care.  








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