NHS waiting list at all-time high in London despite fall in longest wait times

General view of medical equipment on an NHS hospital ward (Jeff Moore/PA) (PA)
General view of medical equipment on an NHS hospital ward (Jeff Moore/PA) (PA)

The number of people in London waiting to start hospital treatment has reached a record high, though times for the longest waits have improved.

A total of 1,011,187 Londoners were awaiting routine treatment in the capital at the end of January, according to the latest NHS figures.

It is a rise of over 1,696 on the month before.

However, the number of people waiting more than 18 months fell by 12.8 per cent compared with the month before.

The number of patients waiting more than one year also fell by 5 per cent during the time period.

Nationally, an estimated 7.21 million people were waiting to start routine hospital treatment at the end of January, up from 7.20 million in December, according to new figures from NHS England.

It is the joint highest total since records began in August 2007. This was previously reached in October 2022.

The Government and NHS England have set the ambition of eliminating all waits of more than 18 months by April 2023, excluding exceptionally complex cases or patients who choose to wait longer.

Waits of more than 52 weeks are down from 406,035 in December to 379,245 in January across England, with a target for eliminating them completely by March 2025.

Ambulance and A&E performance in London has also held steady, despite the NHS continuing to face pressures from bed shortages, winter viruses and strike action.

The average response time in February for ambulances dealing with the most urgent incidents, defined as calls from people with life-threatening illnesses or injuries, was seven minutes and 50 seconds.

It is the second fastest regional response time behind the North East and a decrease of 6 seconds on the month before. However, the figure remains slightly above the target standard response time of seven minutes.

Ambulances took an average of 33 minutes and 40 seconds last month to respond to emergency calls such as heart attacks, strokes and sepsis, up from 29 minutes and thirty seconds in January, while the target is 18 minutes.

The number of people waiting more than 12 hours in A&E departments from a decision to admit to actually being admitted stood at 7,416 in February, down 10 per cent from 8,280 in January.

Professor Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director for England, said there had been “no let-up” of pressures, with staff facing “significant levels of respiratory illness in hospital, which came at the same time as disruption from industrial action”.

He continued: “Despite this, staff continued to deliver for patients, bringing down elective waits, treating more cancer patients and delivering more diagnostic tests for people than ever before.

“Not only that, but ambulance response times in February for the most serious callouts sustained improvements seen in January. This is a huge achievement. We are extremely grateful for the enormous efforts from staff, who we know are tired, after an extremely challenging few months.

“The NHS will not stop in its efforts to bring down 18-month waits for elective care and bring down the cancer backlog, but it is inevitable that if the upcoming junior doctors strikes happen they will have a significant impact on cancer care and routine operations that were scheduled to happen – as ever, we will do all we can to limit the impact to patients.”