In the years leading up to 2020, the NHS in England experienced both increasing demand and declining performance on several key waiting time measures.

In many cases these pressures have increased following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Line chart showing the number of people waiting for hospital treatment in England.

The number of people on a waiting list for hospital treatment rose to a record of 5.6 million in July 2021. The waiting list rose consistently between 2012 and 2019 and has risen more quickly since early 2021. The 18-week target for treatment has not been met since 2016.

Line chart showing the percentage of patients spending longer than 4 hours in hospital A&E in England since 2010

The number of people going to A&E is currently above pre-pandemic levels. 4-hour waits in hosptial A&E became much more common between 2015 and 2020. While 4-hour waits usually peak in the winter, a new record high of 33.8% was reached in August 2021.

Line chart showing the percentage of cancer patients who waited under 62 days between GP referral and treatment (target: 85%)

The 62-day waiting time standard for cancer (measured from urgent GP referral to treatment) has not been met in recent years. Performance declined between 2013 and 2018. Since the pandemic it has fallen further, with 72.8% of patients waiting under 62 days in July 2021 (target: 85%).

Line chart showing the percentage change in the number of doctors and nurses in England since 2010

NHS staff numbers have increased during the pandemic. The number of hospital doctors was 10.6% higher in June 2021 than in June 2019, and the number of nurses was 7.5% higher. Meanwhile, bed capacity has fallen and is now 10% lower than a decade ago.

The full PDF briefing paper examines trends in the following areas:

  • Accident & Emergency attendance and performance
  • Ambulance demand and response times
  • Waiting times and waiting lists for routine treatment
  • Waiting times for cancer diagnosis and treatment
  • Diagnostic waiting times and activity
  • GP appointments
  • Workforce numbers for doctors, nurses and other staff
  • Bed availability and occupancy

For information on NHS funding and expenditure, please see our separate briefing. Similarly, for information on NHS mental health services, see our briefing on that topic.

Health is a devolved area. These statistics relate to the NHS in England only.


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