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What Will NHS Waiting Lists Look Like in 2024?

Updated: May 8

New analysis by Health Foundation shows worrying predictions for the waiting list for routine hospital treatment (‘elective care’) in England. Regardless of whether NHS industrial action continues, the waiting list could surge to over 8 million by this summer, based on current trends. The analysis highlighted several important areas:

Impact of Industrial Action on the Waiting List

Industrial action by consultants and junior doctors has contributed to a lengthening of the waiting list however, this only accounts for a tiny percentage of the overall size of the list. Strikes are also anticipated to have indirect consequences, including financial strain on the NHS and diversion of management attention from productivity improvement.

Government Priorities and Recovery Plans

Addressing the NHS waiting list remains a vital priority for the government. Published in February 2022, NHS England's elective care recovery plan anticipated a decline in the waiting list by March 2024. Additionally, the Prime Minister pledged in January 2023 that waiting lists would decrease and people would receive care more promptly. At the time of the pledge, the waiting list amounted to 7.2 million.

Scenarios and Projections

The analysis provides various scenarios, offering better and worse case projections. Only under the more optimistic scenario, where the number of completed treatments increases by 10.4% annually—almost a third faster than the current rate—would the waiting list reach the level it was at when the Prime Minister made his pledge by the end of 2024. The elective care recovery plan's expectations would not be met under any of the presented scenarios.

Referrals and Treatment Trends

Developments in terms of patient referrals for treatment are promising, as they have now returned to pre-pandemic levels and are growing at an accelerated rate. The monthly rate of treatments is also surpassing pre-pandemic figures. However, despite these positive indications, the waiting list continues to expand as the number of treatments has not yet surpassed the number of referrals.


Potential Disruptions and Challenges

Efforts to reduce the waiting list could face obstacles, such as a new wave of COVID-19 or a severe winter flu season. Additionally, financial pressures may lead to cutbacks in hospital care, further hindering progress in addressing the waiting list crisis.

If your Trust needs a cost-efficient way to reduce waiting lists, contact us to find out how we can help you.


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