SURGICAL teams will face a "big challenge" to eliminate the number of NHS patients in England waiting more than two years for consultant-led hospital treatment by July, warns the Royal College of Surgeons of England.
Figures published this month show a record 20,065 people waiting more than two years for treatment in December (2021) and 6.07 million people on the waiting list overall.
The college was responding to new government plans for reducing the backlog in elective care that has built up through the pandemic. The Elective Recovery Plan has set a target to ensure no patient will wait longer than two years for an elective (planned) treatment by July 2022.
The plan also aims to eliminate waits of over 18 months by April 2023 and return the number of people waiting more than 62 days for an urgent referral back to pre-pandemic levels by March 2023.
NHS England also wants to eliminate waits of longer than a year for elective care by March 2025.
Data show that the longest waits were for trauma and orthopaedic treatment (such as hip and knee replacements) followed by general surgery (such as gallbladder removals and hernia operations), and followed by ear nose and throat treatment.
Miss Fiona Myint, a consultant vascular surgeon and Vice President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said: "These figures for December show just how stretching the government’s targets are.
"NHS staff were working around the clock in December, to deliver the booster programme. Thankfully today, more planned operations are able to happen, and we have started making progress on these very long waits. But we are also caring for more than 13,500 patients in hospitals across the country with Covid-19. We have staff off sick with the virus and the persistent problem of around 100,000 staff vacancies. We are not out of the woods yet. Eliminating two-year waits remains a big challenge."