NHS waiting times for elective and cancer treatment Contents


The NHS treats more and more people each year, and patients have a right to expect to receive treatment within the timescales set out by the NHS Constitution. But more and more patients are being let down by the NHS’s continued failure to meet deadlines for waiting times. The percentage of patients treated within waiting times standards continues to get worse for both elective (non-urgent care) and cancer treatment. It is unacceptable that less than half of NHS trusts and foundation trusts (trusts) meet the 18-week waiting times standard for elective treatment, and only 38% meet the 62-day standard from referral to treatment for cancer patients.

Like many areas within the NHS, demand for elective and cancer treatments is growing which risks exacerbating this worsening performance. The waiting list for elective care has grown by one and a half million since March 2013 to 4.2 million in November 2018. NHS organisations are not being sufficiently held to account for ensuring patients’ rights to treatment within maximum waiting times for elective care. The NHS does not yet fully understand what is driving the demand for elective care, undermining its ability to plan services to meet patient needs. We are also concerned that the national bodies responsible for setting and managing waiting times appear to lack curiosity regarding the impact of longer waiting times on patient outcomes and on patient harm. Improvement is clearly needed to ensure patients get the treatment they need within the waiting times standards the government has set. The long-term term funding settlement for the NHS, the NHS Long Term Plan, and the current review of waiting times standards present an opportunity to get the NHS back on track in meeting waiting times standards.

Published: 12 June 2019