NHS England performance explained in charts: waiting lists, ambulance responses, A&E waits and cancer care

The number of people waiting for hospital treatment has hit a record high, new NHS figures show

Hospital waiting lists have hit a record high in England (Image: AdobeStock/NationalWorld/Kim Mogg)Hospital waiting lists have hit a record high in England (Image: AdobeStock/NationalWorld/Kim Mogg)
Hospital waiting lists have hit a record high in England (Image: AdobeStock/NationalWorld/Kim Mogg)

The number of people waiting for routine hospital treatment in England has hit a record high, new figures show. 

Many parts of the NHS remain under severe pressure after what was billed as the worst winter in its history, due to backlogs caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The health service has also been hit by a series of walk-outs since December, with nurses, ambulance staff and junior doctors all taking industrial action.

These charts break down the new figures, showing the strain that different aspects of the NHS are under.

Operation waiting lists

Waiting lists for routine hospital treatment have hit their highest level since records began in 2007, with a massive 7.2 million people waiting for operations or other procedures. 

While the backlog is often blamed on the pandemic, waiting lists had been rising steadily for years before that. The government and NHS England have set the goal of eliminating all waits of more than a year by March 2025.

Ambulance responses

Waits for ambulances for the highest priority call-outs have reached their highest level in 2023 so far.

Response times for Category 1 incidents -  life threatening conditions like heart attacks - hit an average of 8 minutes 49 seconds in March – significantly longer than the seven minute target. But this is some way off the situation seen in December 2022, when response times hit a record low of nearly 11 minutes.

The ambulance service has seen walk-outs by members of three unions - Unison, Unite and GMB - this winter.

A&E waits

There were record waits for care at England’s A&E departments this winter. While performance is now starting to improve, it's still well below its target. At least 95 per cent of A&E patients should be admitted to hospital, transferred to another provider or discharged within four hours. It’s a target which hasn’t been met since 2015.

Cancer care waits

Cancer patients are often facing agonisingly long waits for their treatment to begin, when early access to care is often crucial to a patient’s chances of recovery. 

The NHS target is for at least 85% of cancer patients to start their first treatment within two months (62 days) of an urgent GP referral. This target was last hit in December 2015.

What health chiefs are saying

NHS National Medical Director, Professor Sir Stephen Powis, said: “The last few months have been demanding for the NHS as record numbers of patients have come forward for care.

“Today’s data shows demand on services is not relenting with A&E attendances and ambulance calls outs in March recorded at the highest level so far this year – even higher than a very busy January.

“But amidst the demand and industrial action, staff have progressed on key NHS priorities with the number of people waiting the longest for elective care continuing to reduce while for the first time ever the NHS has also hit the faster diagnosis standard for cancer – with more patients getting a definitive diagnosis or the all clear within 28 days.

“So while there is no let up for services – and with almost 48 hours of strike action still to go - it remains as vital as ever that the public continue to come forward for care when they need it – using 999 in an emergency and using 111 online and making use of the expertise of pharmacies, GPs and community services for less urgent needs.”

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