Four million on hospital waiting lists

Published: 13th Jan 2017

In brief


Four million people are on the waiting list for NHS treatment.


This is correct, although the figure refers to each referral rather than individual patients. Around 3.7 million referrals in England were waiting to receive non-emergency treatment as of November 2016. Including those hospital trusts that didn’t submit information, the NHS thinks that there may be 3.9 million on the waiting list.

“Four million people are waiting for referral for treatment, that’s getting from the appointment to being treated.”

Paul Mason, 12 January 2017

The latest figures from NHS England show that 3.7 million patient referrals were waiting to be treated as of November 2016.

The figures count each referral rather than individual patients, so if someone was waiting for multiple treatments or was re-referred for a treatment they may be included in the figures several times. NHS England told us that they don’t collect information on how many patients this might apply to.

Not all hospital trusts submitted information on how many treatments were within the target time. The NHS estimates that the total waiting for treatment could be around 3.9 million.

The NHS’s target is to treat 92% of referrals waiting for “non-emergency, consultant-led treatment” within 18 weeks of them being referred. Just over 90% of those on the waiting list (3.4 million) were still within this 18-week target in November, so for that month NHS England had missed the target.

NHS England says that the impact of hospital trusts which don’t report how many treatments are within target times or not is “generally minimal”.

The remaining 10% (354,000) had been waiting for longer than 18 weeks in November. Of these, around 1,200 had been waiting for longer than a year.

The average length of time patients had been waiting for treatment was six and a half weeks.

Just under 339,000 patients were treated in November. On average they had been waiting for ten weeks since their referral.

This factcheck is part of a roundup of BBC Question Time. Read the roundup.

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