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Press release

The waiting list stands at 5.4 million: The King's Fund responds to NHS performance data

Commenting on the latest NHS hospital performance data, Deborah Ward, Senior Analyst at The King’s Fund said:

'Today’s figures show services across the NHS running hot as staff do their best to respond to pre-pandemic levels of activity in emergency care and tackle the hospital backlog that has built up during the pandemic.

'The waiting list for routine NHS care has ballooned to levels not seen since the early 2000s, and now stands at more than 5.4 million and with the potential for many more people who weren’t referred during the pandemic to come forward for treatment, this list will continue to grow. The number of people waiting two years or more for planned care has also rocketed to nearly 6000; people who will be living with conditions that potentially limit their lives while they wait.

'Demand for emergency services has also returned to pre-pandemic levels with 2.2 million people attending A&E in July and more than 1 million calls to the ambulance service last month. NHS hospitals face competing demands for their limited resources and a coherent national strategy for balancing these pressures is urgently needed ahead of winter.

'The backlog is not only in hospital care. Increasing demand for mental health, GP services and social care mean the whole health and care system is now facing a capacity crunch.

'It is important to remember that even before Covid-19, waiting lists for treatment were already sizeable after a decade of stalling funding and a growing workforce crisis. The NHS has improved patient care by successfully tackling mammoth waiting lists before, but there are no quick fixes. The NHS will need time, resources and a fully funded workforce strategy to recruit and retain more staff.'

Notes to editors

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The King's Fund is an independent charity working to improve health and care in England. We help to shape policy and practice through research and analysis; develop individuals, teams and organisations; promote understanding of the health and social care system; and bring people together to learn, share knowledge and debate. Our vision is that the best possible health and care is available to all.