Before 2020, the NHS in England experienced increasing demand and declining performance on its main waiting time measures.

Many of these pressures have increased following the Covid-19 pandemic.

How long is the the waiting list for hospital treatment?

 Line chart showing the number of patients waiting for hospital treatment in England. The line falls between 2008 and 2009. Between 2012 and 2020 it increases gradually. After a dip at the start of the pandemic, it increases quickly to new records in 2023.

The waiting list for hospital treatment rose to a record of nearly 7.8 million in September 2023. The 18-week treatment target has not been met since 2016.

Source: NHS England, Consultant-Led Referral to Treatment Waiting Times

How long are waiting times in A&E?

Line chart showing the percentage of patients spending over 4 hours in major A&E departments in England. The line remains below 10% until 2015. After that there is a spike each winter, with each winter having worse performance. From 2022 onwards the line increases to new record highs, with no seasonal pattern.

The number of people going to A&E was slightly above to pre-pandemic levels in summer 2023. The proportion of patients spending more than 4 hours in hospital A&E grew substantially between 2015 and 2020. A new record high of 50.4% was reached in December 2022.

The number of patients waiting over 12 hours for admission after a decision to admit has increased substantially over the past two years. 

Line chart showing the number of patients who waited over 12 hours for admission to hospital in England. Until 2020 this was a rare occurrence with the line remaining near its base. From 2021 onwards the line rises steeply to records at the end of 2022, with a slight subsequent fall

Source: NHS England, Accident and Emergency Attendances and Emergency Admissions

How long are waiting times for cancer treatment?

Line chart showing the percentage of cancer patients treated within 62 days of an urgent GP referral, relative to the 85% target. The target was met until 2014. Performance was just below target until 2018. After that performance declined. In 2021 and 2022 performance declined further and reached a record low in Jan 2023

The 62-day waiting time standard for cancer treatment (measured from urgent GP referral) has not been met in recent years. Performance declined between 2013 and 2018. Since the pandemic it has fallen further. In September 2023, 59.3% of patients waited under 62 days for treatment after an urgent GP referral, compared with an target of 85%. 

Source: NHS England, Cancer Waiting Times

How have NHS staff numbers changed over time?

 Line chart showing the percentage increase in the number of doctors and nurses in NHS hospitals since 2010. The number of nurses fell between 2010 and 2013 but has risen since and is now over 15% above its 2010 level. The number of doctors has risen consistently, and more quickly in recent years, to almost 40% above its 2010 level.

NHS staff numbers have increased, with doctor numbers up 21% and nurses up 20% over the five years to July 2023. The NHS vacancy rate was 8.9% in June 2023, down from 9.6% in June 2022.

These workforce figures do not adjust for changes in demand or activity.

Source: NHS Digital, NHS Workforce Statistics

How long are waiting times for ambulances?

Ambulance response times have risen, with the average response to a Category 2 call (for e.g. suspected heart attacks and strokes) at over 1 hour 30 minutes in December 2022 compared with a target of 18 minutes. Performance has subsequently improved but remains outside the target. 

Two line charts showing performance against two ambulance response time targets - Category 1 (7 minutes) and Category 2 (18 minutes). The Category 1 chart shows that the performance was around the target between 2019 and 2021. Performance worsened in late 2021 and 2022. The Category 2 chart shows that performance has been outside the target since 2018, but new record response times - of more than double the target time - were recorded for much of 2022

Source: NHS England, Ambulance Quality Indicators

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 mental health services, please see our separate briefings:

Health is a devolved policy area and these statistics relate to the NHS in England only. Links to statistics for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can be found below.


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