NHS: More than 11m people sat on "hidden" waiting lists for treatment

The figures have not been reported by NHS trusts.

NHS trusts have been struggling with growing waiting lists.NHS trusts have been struggling with growing waiting lists.
NHS trusts have been struggling with growing waiting lists.

More than 11m Brits are sat on "hidden" NHS waiting lists, a new report has suggested.

A new publication by think tank Reform claims that waiting lists for non-elective treatment have grown "significantly" since the Covid-19 pandemic struck, with a further 7.75m patients on traditional NHS waiting lists. These non-elective procedures include emergency care, cancer treatments, mental health services and follow-up appointments.

The report's authors, Sebastian Rees and Hashmath Hassan, say that the waiting lists have reached "unprecedented" levels.

"In May 2023, more than 11.4m people were awaiting follow-up care, a number which has grown by 50 per cent in the last four years," they said. "The follow-up backlog is rarely discussed, with issues such as A&E wait times and the elective backlog at the forefront of NHS priorities. This lack of emphasis placed on follow-up waits relates partially to the fact that there is no requirement for trusts to record and publish data on follow-up waiting times.

"Failing to provide adequate follow-up care can have negative impacts on patient outcomes and brings long-term system costs. Deprioritising follow-up care can lead to patients’ conditions deteriorating, increased anxiety as a result of being ‘lost’ in the system, and potentially greater use of primary care and emergency services."

The data was obtained through FOI requests to NHS trusts across the country. However, 56 of the 119 acute trusts "claim either not to hold this information, to be unable to present it in an accessible format or failed to respond to the FOI." Rees and Hassan have recommended that NHS Engand mandate all trusts to publish monthly figures of patients waiting for follow-up appointments.

They said: "Though this paper does not suggest ways in which the large and growing follow-up care backlog can be dealt with, this journey must begin with transparency about its size and the level of clinical risk it poses. Only by properly scrutinising all NHS waitlists can performance decay start to be addressed."

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