Waiting Times

Referral to treatment time:

Since 2004 patients have had a guarantee within the NHS constitution to receive treatment within 18 weeks of referral. Comparing September 2011 with September 2012 we found that fewer procedures were completed in September 2012 than in the same month in 2011

  • the percentage completed within 18 weeks rose from 90.7% to 92.2%.

However procedures can now take longer to be performed yet still fall within the specified target. For instance between 2010 and 2012 the average wait for having a new knee fitted rose from 88.9 days to 99.2 days. The waiting time target had nevertheless been met. Thus while useful as a general indicator the waiting time statistics can hide more specific trends in service provision affecting patients.

A & E waiting time:

A & E waiting times are assessed according to a four hour standard. The published figures include the numbers of patients seen within four hours. They also include information on the waiting time from a decision to admit a patient to that patient being admitted. Comparing Oct-Dec 2011 with Oct-Dec 2012 the number of patients waiting more than 4 hours rose by

  • 18% to 229,944 while the number of people visiting the A&E rose by only 1.78%.

This could be part of a worrying trend, starting around 2010, and highlighted by a recent King's fund report, in the proportion of patients waiting more than four hours to be admitted - so-called 'trolley waits'.

Comparing Oct-Dec 2011 with Oct-Dec 2012 the number of patients waiting more than four hours but less than twelve hours once the decision to be admitted had been taken

  • rose by 34% to 38,276, an increase of 9662 people.

This chimes with the patient survey reports published by the CQC where one in three patients claim they have spent more than four hours in hospital accident and emergency departments in England. Department of Health figures suggest that over 90% of patients are being seen within 4 hours, the target is currently set for 95% of all patients to be seen within four hours.


Diagnostic Test waiting time:

Data is collected by the DoH on 15 key diagnostic tests and procedures. At the end of 2012 the data shows that:

  • 618,000 patients were still waiting for one of 15 diagnostic tests.

Cancer Waiting times:

The latest data published is for the third quarter of 2012/13. This shows that, for patients with an urgent referral from their GP for suspected cancer

  • 95.8% of people were seen by a specialist within two weeks

This compares with 95.4% for Q2 of 2012/13. Looking at the data for the time taken from diagnosis to the first definitive treatment it was found that

  • 98.5% of people treated began first definitive treatment within 31 days of receiving their diagnosis.


Some references:

Waiting times for some operations increase The Guardian (19.04.2012)

18-week waits: "Referral to Treatment Waiting Times Statistics, Adjusted Admitted Pathways (Provider data)", Department of Health

A&E waiting time figures

Diagnostic waiting time figures (DoH)

Cancer waiting time figure (DoH)