The NHS England waiting list was effectively stable in February

11 April 2024
What was claimed

The number of cases on the NHS England waiting list fell in February 2024.

Our verdict

Although the number of cases technically fell in February 2024, they were broadly stable when adjusted to take account of a change in the system.

Patients were waiting for almost 7.54mn appointments, down from 7.58mn at the end of January, NHS England data showed on Thursday.

NHS England waiting list figures fall slightly

With [a change in the system] considered, the waiting list in February remained stable compared to the month before.

There’s been some understandable confusion over the new NHS England waiting list data that was published earlier today.

Some newspapers, including the Financial Times, the Spectator and the Guardian, reported that the latest number of cases awaiting non-emergency treatment, for February 2024, showed a fall compared with the month before.

This is technically true, but as the Spectator and the Guardian went on to point out, a change in the system for publishing waiting list data means that this month it stopped including some cases, primarily from paediatric community services.

What might not be clear to some readers is that this casts some doubt on whether the waiting list fell at all.

As a statistical notice from NHS England explains: “Analysis indicates that about 36,000 … pathways [cases where someone is awaiting treatment] have been excluded from the February figures.” And as it happens, the figure for the waiting list at the end of February fell by 36,198.

As a result, it’s possible that if the waiting list had been counted in the same way as before, it would have been very slightly higher or lower than it was in January. Essentially, as NHS England said in a press release this morning: “With this change considered, the waiting list in February remained stable compared to the month before.”

Statistics about public services should be reported as accurately as possible, including all necessary context, so that people understand what the numbers really mean.

The Financial Times amended its article during the day, changing “down from” to “compared with”. We have contacted the Spectator and Guardian and will update this article if they respond.

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