Too many patients waiting too long despite welcome improvements

Performance has improved across urgent and emergency care and cancer services but too many patients are still waiting too long for treatment.

9 May 2024

  • The total waiting list for procedures and appointments remained stable at around 7.54 million in March;
  • Some 48,968 people had been waiting for more than 65 weeks for treatment in March, down from 75,004 the previous month. 
  • The number of people waiting more than a year rose to 309,300 in March, up from 305,050 the previous month.  
  • Some 74.4% of patients were admitted, transferred or discharged from A&E departments within four hours in April, up very slightly on the 74.2% in March;
  • There were 2.23 million attendances at A&Es across England in April, with 544,113 emergency admissions, making it the busiest April on record;
  • Category 2 ambulance average response time for April was 30 minutes and 22 seconds against the thirty-minute target for 2024/25 while for category 1 ambulances, the average response time was 8 minutes and 10 seconds – both faster than last month;
  • In March, 77.3% of cancer patients were told they had cancer or had it definitively ruled out within 28 days, against the target of 75%;
  • In March, 68.7% of people began their first treatment for cancer within 62 days of an urgent referral, against the target of 85%;
  • The backlog of patients waiting more than 62 days at the end of March was 14,916, down from19,023 for week ending 26 March last year.  

Responding to the latest NHS performance statistics Rory Deighton, director of the NHS Confederation’s Acute Network, said: 

“This data shows some very welcome improvements across cancer and urgent and emergency care services, as well as a large drop in some of the longest waits for elective care. NHS leaders and their teams deserve credit for their meticulous winter planning and incredibly hard work over the last few months to keep patients safe amid unceasing demand, industrial action and the continuing financial and workforce pressures in social care.

“But our members know that improving performance will be a marathon not a sprint and there is a long way to go to hit national targets.

“A&Es had their busiest April on record, while ambulances continue to face high demand. While the 65-week waits have dropped, the overall waiting list for elective care has remained almost unchanged and the number of patients waiting more than a year has increased. 

“But there is no question that services are facing incredibly high demand and we know far too many people are still waiting too long for their care, including to start cancer treatment. This stems from a decade of underinvestment in capital, workforce and social care. Our members will need the right support and resources to keep the extra beds they opened this winter staffed as well as to keep tackling the backlog through additional surgery sessions and opening new theatres. The NHS is in an incredibly tight financial position and we are extremely worried that this could jeopardise the improvements that have been made so far.”