Targets met, records broken: good news on waiting times

by Rob Findlay

The NHS in England continued its winning streak on waiting times, with record-breaking performance showing through on the latest (January 2012) figures. It’s an impressive result, especially for the middle of winter. The NHS notched up:

  • The smallest overall waiting list since February 2010
  • The smallest ever number of patients on the waiting list over 18 weeks
  • The smallest ever numbers on the list over 26 weeks, 39 weeks, and 52 weeks
  • Total and long-waiters on the list down on 3, 6, and 12 months ago, and since General Election.

The new (better) 18-week target, that 92 per cent of the waiting list must be within 18 weeks, was also met for the first time. In January 2012 92.3 per cent of the waiting list was below 18 weeks, beating the previous record set at the time of the General Election (91.9 per cent in May 2010).

You can download our updated waiting times fact checker here: Gooroo NHS waiting times fact checker

Caveats? Yes. The main standing caveat is that GP referrals are being limited in some areas, and this may be holding up patients before they appear on the waiting list. There is also a specific issue with the January 2012 data, because two Trusts (Imperial, and the RJAH Orthopaedic) again failed to submit data. However, even if you add those Trusts’ November 2011 figures back in, and make a guesstimate of the true long-wait position at the RJAH Orthopaedic, the 92 per cent target is still met England-wide.

Is there any bad news?

Well, you could point to the number patients admitted, who had waited over 18 weeks on admission; that is up since the General Election. But treating long-waiters is a good thing, surely; better than letting them wait. So a better criticism might be that the NHS treated (very slightly) fewer over-18-week waiters than a year previously (though the numbers are so small that the absence of Imperial and RJAH would tip it).

Or you could point to median waits being up since the General Election, on all three measures (admitted, non-admitted, and incomplete pathways). But then you’d have to explain whether that was really a bad thing, given that rising median waits could indicate less queue-jumping by non-urgent patients.

[UPDATE: As it happens, Andy Burnham MP, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, did make exactly those two points, a couple of hours after this blog post was first published on the HSJ website.]

Or you could go for the proportion of Trust-specialties who are achieving the new 92 per cent waiting-list-based target: this was 71 per cent in January, which is below the 75 per cent peak set at the time of the General Election (see chart below). Perhaps that might be the one to aim for.

So, bad news? Not so much.


England-wide picture

Admissions from the waiting list were up, mainly because January had 21 working days this year and there were only 20 last year and the year before.

Total admissions
Total admissions

The total number of patients on the waiting list continues to track the seasonal trend with uncanny accuracy.

Total waiting list
Total waiting list

The new and better target, that 92 per cent of the waiting list must be within 18 weeks, has been met for the first time. Performance is also much better than normal for a January, and the new emphasis on long-waits still waiting is clearly having an effect.

92 per cent of total waiting list
92 per cent of total waiting list

At specialty level, all the big surgical specialties are heading in the right direction too. Neurosurgery continues to worry; it has long been the most-pressured specialty, and is currently drifting slowly in the wrong direction.

92 per cent of waiting list by specialty
92 per cent of waiting list by specialty

In 2012-13 the 18-week targets will need to be met in every specialty in every Trust, and the next chart shows how many of the 2,236 Trust-specialty combinations that have a decent volume of work are succeeding. The success rate has ticked up nicely, but still falls short of the record set at the time of the General Election.

Provider-specialties with 92 per cent of waiting list within 18 weeks
Provider-specialties with 92 per cent of waiting list within 18 weeks


Trust top twenty

The twenty Trusts with the greatest waiting time pressures (omitting Imperial and RJAH who did not submit data) are:

Trust 92% of waiting list is within Position in January Change Position in December Over-one-year waiters on list
Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust 32.2 weeks # 1 no change from # 1 150
Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust 30.4 weeks # 2 up 4 from # 6 0
Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust 28.2 weeks # 3 up 2 from # 5 522
Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Trust 25.5 weeks # 4 up 6 from # 10 37
Weston Area Health NHS Trust 24.9 weeks # 5 up 12 from # 17 0
Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust 24.8 weeks # 6 up 3 from # 9 107
Croydon Health Services NHS Trust 24.8 weeks # 7 up 6 from # 13 86
Taunton and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust 24.5 weeks # 8 down 4 from # 4 12
Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust 24.2 weeks # 9 up 2 from # 11 110
Bolton NHS Foundation Trust 23.7 weeks # 10 up 6 from # 16 162
Warrington and Halton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust 23.7 weeks # 11 up 1 from # 12 48
Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust 23.5 weeks # 12 up 2 from # 14 0
Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Partnership NHS Trust 23.4 weeks # 13 down 10 from # 3 71
Derby Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust 23.2 weeks # 14 up 4 from # 18 0
Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust 22.7 weeks # 15 up 13 from # 28 0
North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust 22.3 weeks # 16 up 5 from # 21 74
King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust 22.1 weeks # 17 up 68 from # 85 218
North West London Hospitals NHS Trust 21.9 weeks # 18 up 12 from # 30 125
Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Trust 21.9 weeks # 19 up 13 from # 32 1
Royal United Hospital Bath NHS Trust 21.9 weeks # 20 down 5 from # 15 16

Congratulations are in order for Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. Last month they were at number 2, now they have sorted things out and dropped off the table completely.


The next Department of Health 18-weeks data release (February 2012 figures) is scheduled for 9:30am on Thursday 19th April 2012.

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