The Royal College of Surgeons has stated that the number of patients waiting at least six months for surgery has increased by 300% over the last four years.
Over 130,000 patients were forced to wait in excess of half a year for an operation in March, which compares with just 45,000 in March 2013.
Nonetheless, although this can be considered worrying data, it should be pointed out that 90% of patients were still treated within 18 weeks.
Responding to criticism, a spokeswoman for NHS England pointed out that the healthcare system has reduced the number of patients waiting over 12 months before treatment.
“The NHS has cut the number of patients waiting more than a year for treatment by nearly 13,000 over the past five years, and spending on non-urgent surgery is continuing to rise.”
However, surgeons have stated that they are concerned that many patients will wait longer for surgery in the future.
NHS England boss Simon Stevens has already expressed concern about the growing pressures within the NHS system, which mean that the 18-week target time for operation such as knee and hip replacements are no longer tenable.
Indeed, the organisation has already announced a new policy which will instead focus on treating people with serious condition such as cancer more rapidly.
But the Royal College of Surgeons states that this is resulting in more people waiting for six to nine months or more for surgery, in specialities such as ear, nose and throat, brain and spinal, and general surgery.
It must be said in mitigation that this is rather predictable, and while it may be of concern to NHS patients, it does seem like a fairly effective use of resources.
Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have also seen increases in the numbers of people waiting more than six months for planned surgery since 2013.
NHS England issued a statement on the subject.
“While the Royal College of Surgeons understandably lobbies for more spending on surgeons, in the real world they aren’t the only call on constrained NHS funding, which also has to support extra investment in GP services, modern cancer treatments, and expanded mental health services.”
But Clare Marx, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, stated that the healthcare system is finding it difficult to meet the needs of patients.
“We are now struggling to meet the standards and timeliness of care that the public rightly expect. It is unacceptable for such a large number of patients to be waiting this long in pain and discomfort for treatment. This is the grim reality of the financial pressures facing the NHS.”
Ahead of the general election, Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s shadow health secretary, blamed the figures on the failure of the Conservative government to adequately fund the NHS.
“The Tories’ neglect and underfunding of the NHS has pushed services to the brink. By properly funding the NHS we will restore the 18-week treatment target which the Tories have abandoned and we will bring a million people off the waiting list.”