Waiting Times

Waiting times

The Patients Association conduct annual reports into waiting times for elective surgery and aim to highlight the voices of patients behind waiting time statistics.

The Patients Association has been conducting annual reports since 2010 into the number of patients waiting longer than the 18-week referral to treatment target for elective surgery. We have noticed a clear, trend over recent years in the increasing time people are waiting for operations, as well as the number of people waiting longer for elective surgery. Our reports were inspired by calls to our national helpline from the people behind waiting time statistics, every day we hear from the people behind these statistics on our national helpline: individuals who are in pain, worried they will lose further mobility, or will take longer to recover when they finally get their surgery. Their family members and carers are also having to share the added uncertainty and pressure faced by patients whilst they are waiting for their operations. The Patients Association believes that all patients should be accessing their legal right to surgery within the 18 week (126 days) waiting time limit as set out in the NHS Constitution.

Our latest annual report on waiting times entitled ‘feeling the wait’ based on 2015 data obtained from Freedom of Information requests sent to Trusts in England. The total number of patients waiting over 18 weeks for the calendar year of 2015 was 92,739, compared to 51,388 patients waiting over 18 weeks in 2014. Excluding the figures for bariatric and gender operations which we did not collect last year, this represents an increase of 79.5% in the number of patients waiting for over 18 weeks. 77% of Trusts are failing to notify patients of their rights under the NHS Constitution when the 18 week limit has been missed. Trusts are not notifying patients of their rights under the NHS Constitution when the 18 week waiting time limit is breached. This lack of awareness and due regard to the NHS Constitution is of deep concern to the Patients Association, as it means that patients are going without the medical care they deserve whilst also being denied the important information about the healthcare choices they are entitled to. We will continue to campaign for increased knowledge of the NHS Constitution and for the NHS to honour the rights that patients and the public are entitled to.

The ‘feeling the wait’ report identified three key concerns for patients that we believe must be addressed. Patients feel like they are chasing communication with Trusts for information on the surgery date and that there is a lack of transparency between Trusts and patients. Patients felt that the onus was on them to call their Trust and ask for information about when they could expect to receive their surgery. There is a significant psychological burden on patients waiting to be given a date for surgery and for patients whose surgery has been cancelled (often on the day the surgery was due to take place). Patients want to know if long waiting times have caused, or will cause their condition to deteriorate, so they can be prepared for their condition to be different from when they first started waiting. Patients are also concerned that the long waiting times will affect how successful their eventual surgery will be and how much recovery time they will need.

Patients must have timely access to the services they need within NHS targets. The Patients Association is therefore vehemently against any relaxation on waiting time targets. The Patients Association will continue to monitor elective surgery waiting times and champion the patients behind the statistics.

We sent a Freedom of Information request to NHS Acute Trusts in England, asking them to provide waiting time figures in nine key areas

  • Hip
  • Knee
  • Hernia
  • Bariatric surgery
  • Tonsillectomy
  • Adenoid
  • Gallstone
  • Hysterectomy
  • Cataract

Past Reports

Feeling the Wait – Waiting Times Report 2016

This is our sixth annual report on hospital waiting times for elective surgical procedures in England. The Patients Association believes that all patients should be accessing their legal right to surgery within the 18 week (126 days) waiting time limit as set out in the NHS Constitution. Sadly, over the last five years for too many patients this has not been their experience.  

Download Feeling the wait

Crunchtime – Waiting times Report 2015

This is our fifth annual report on hospital waiting times for elective surgical procedures in England. After four years of monitoring waiting times for these procedures, we have now come to the crunch: in the vast majority of areas, NHS Trusts have breached the NHS Constitution’s 18 week wait limit (126 days) between referral and surgery for some patients. i The mean average waiting times for each of the seven key surgical procedures we have studied are all above 90 days (13 weeks).

Why are we still waiting? – Waiting Times Report 2014

The Patients Association released its fourth annual report on hospital waiting times for surgical procedures in England, revealing inconsistent reporting by Hospital Trusts, unacceptable waiting times and poor patient experiences.

The report, reveals poor performance in the NHS, negative patient experiences and, once again, shows significant variations in waiting times across England, suggesting a postcode lottery when it comes to accessing healthcare. Long waiting times and cancelled operations continue to be an issue.


Download Why are we still waiting? report

Still Waiting – Waiting Times Report 2013

Following on from our 2011 and 2012 reports, our 2013 report shows there to be a fall in the total number of procedures carried out and a noticeable increase in waiting times for elective surgeries. Having said this, some limited improvement has taken place in many of the Trusts who supplied us with data on their activity. However, this is no consolation for the patients who happen to live in the catchment areas of the worst performing Trusts, and renews our concerns that the “postcode lottery” that has plagued the delivery of NHS treatment continues to worsen.

Download Still waiting report

The Waiting Game – Waiting Times Report 2012

In April 2012, we published our report on waiting times following on from our 2011 report on cuts to the number of operations being carried out. In total waiting times increased by 6% in 2011 when compared to 2010 and a drop of 4.6% in the total number of operations carried out across the areas included in the survey.

Download The Waiting Game report

Cuts to services and waiting times 2011

Throughout 2010 and 2011 we were hearing from patients and healthcare professionals about cuts to services and longer waiting times for elective operations and other services

In March 2011, our survey of Trusts showed that there were 10,757 fewer surgical procedures carried out across 9 categories in 2010 than in 2009. This included 11% fewer Tonsillectomies, 6% fewer Knee replacements, 3% fewer Hip replacements and 51% fewer Bariatric procedures. Our research also showed that patients have to wait longer for some procedures with some patients waiting 8 days longer for Hip and Knee replacements, and 6 days longer for Hysterectomies. Our report received a huge amount of press coverage and was debated in the House of Commons by the Secretary of State for Health, Andrew Lansley and the Shadow Secretary of State for Health, John Healey.

You can read the exchange in the House of Commons, here.

Download Cuts to services and waiting times report