There were treatment waits longer than 18 weeks in 2010

20 May 2024
What was claimed

Fourteen years ago there were no waiting lists over 18 weeks.

Our verdict

This is not correct. A total of 214,983 cases were recorded to be waiting more than 18 weeks in March 2010.

14 yrs ago there were no waiting lists over 18-weeks

A widely shared post on X (formerly Twitter) claims that 14 years ago there were no NHS England “waiting lists” longer than 18 weeks. The Labour MP Bill Esterson shared the post with his followers, and we have seen the same claim appear several times on Facebook.

In fact—although the number of 18-week waits has risen enormously in the past 14 years—it isn’t true to say that there were none of them in 2010, or that 18-week waits weren’t being recorded. In March 2010, which is exactly 14 years before the most recently reported data, 214,983 cases had been waiting for more than 18 weeks.

This assumes that the claim was about elective treatment with NHS England specifically, which is what people usually mean by “the waiting list” in the part of the NHS that the UK government controls.

As 18-week waits have become more common, they have also become more likely, with a higher proportion of all cases waiting at least this long over the past 14 years, and especially since the pandemic.

When Full Fact contacted Dr Goyal, he confirmed that he should have said 18 months instead of weeks, and added a correction to the original post.

This correction post is also not quite right on two points. It says: “only 1,000 patients were waiting longer than a year for elective care”, which is not correct. In March 2010, 18,494 cases had been waiting longer than a year, and the total did not fall below 13,000 at any point in 2010.

Dr Goyal’s correction post also said: “In 2010, >92% delivered electives in 18-weeks. It’s now 58%.” The data shows that throughout 2010, the percentage of cases still awaiting treatment that had been waiting less than 18 weeks never quite reached 92%, although it did fall to about 58% in recent months. (And strictly speaking these are “incomplete pathways”, not cases where treatment had been “delivered” yet.)

We can’t say for sure that there were no waits longer than 18 months in March 2010, because 18-month data wasn’t recorded until later.

Politicians and others on social media should take care to use data about public services accurately, so people are well informed when they choose how to vote.

We have also approached Mr Esterson for comment.


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