Wes Streeting wrong to say a million more patients waiting than a year ago

9 November 2023
What was claimed

An extra million patients are on waiting lists compared to this time last year.

Our verdict

Official NHS England data suggests that it’s actually more like half a million extra.

An extra million patients are on waiting lists compared to this time last year

The shadow health secretary Wes Streeting claimed that a million more NHS England patients are waiting for planned treatment compared with November 2022. His comments were then reported in the Sun and on MailOnline.

But this is not correct.

In a press release on the morning of 9 November, Labour shared Mr Streeting’s comment and explained how it was calculated, using NHS England figures also published the same day.

The figure came from comparing the estimated 6.5 million unique patients who were waiting for planned treatment at the end of September 2023 (the latest month for which data is available) with a report in the Health Service Journal from November 2022 that about 5.5 million unique patients were waiting at the time.

However this report, based on comments from Sir Jim Mackey, national director of elective recovery at NHS England, was not precise about this figure. Sir Jim is quoted saying: “It’s actually 5.5 million people, but seven million entries on the waiting list. There are around a million and a half people, we think, who are on multiple times. So, it’s a lot more complicated than we all think.”

Besides which, we now have more accurate official data on the number of people waiting for treatment, which began to be published for the first time on 9 November, covering the months from September 2021 to September 2023.

This estimates that in November 2022, about 6.05 million patients were waiting for treatment, meaning that about 450,000 more were waiting in September 2023, when it had risen to 6.5 million. Using September 2022 as a benchmark, the total then was about 5.97 million, meaning that about 530,000 more people are waiting in the latest data than 12 months before.

Either way, although the number of people waiting has risen substantially in the last year, the total number of extra patients is more like half a million—not a whole million—as Mr Streeting claimed.

Full Fact contacted NHS England, which told us that the latest data was more accurate than the initial estimates mentioned by Sir Jim. It also confirmed that the rise from November 2022 to September 2023 was about 450,000, not a million.  

Politicians must take care to use the best evidence available and describe it accurately, so people are not misled about the state of public services.

Full Fact told Labour about the mistake in its press release shortly after it was sent out. We have also approached the party, the Sun and MailOnline for comment.

Image courtesy of David Woolfall

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As detailed above, MailOnline and The Sun have amended their articles to remove this claim.

After publishing this fact check, we contacted Labour and Wes Streeting to request a correction to this claim.

They did not respond.

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