Waiting list falls again as NHS staff treat more patients than ever before in one month

The covid backlog has fallen for a second month in a row thanks to the huge efforts of NHS staff, new data shows today.

Monthly performance data shows that the overall waiting list fell by more than 95,000 – down to 7.6 million in November from 7.7 million in October

Thanks to the measures set out in the NHS elective recovery blueprint, there were 60,000 fewer patients waiting for care in November (6.39 million) than in October (6.44 million) and 112,000 fewer than in September (6.5 million).

The progress was down to NHS staff delivering more than 1.63 million treatments in November, the highest monthly activity on record and around 150,000 more than the same month before the pandemic (1.48 million in Nov 2019).

The number waiting over a year for treatment fell to 355,412 in November, the lowest it has been since May 2022, with 65 week waits now down 59% from a peak of 233,051 in June 2021 to 94,563.

Not only was it a record month for treatment, but NHS staff also delivered a record number of diagnostics in November with more than 2.3 million patients receiving vital tests or checks for worrying symptoms – up 15% on the same month pre-pandemic with two million seen in November 2019.

More than 200,000 people received the all-clear or a definitive diagnosis for cancer in November within four weeks – also the highest since the new faster diagnosis target was recorded.

There were significant improvements in ambulance performance last month compared to the year before, with urgent incidents like heart attacks and strokes (Category 2) receiving an ambulance on average 47 minutes faster than in Dec 2022. This is despite much higher demand, with 43,000 more Category 2 callouts than the same period the previous year (410,747 in Dec 2023 vs 367,985 in Dec 2022).

Emergency (Category 1) ambulance responses were over two minutes faster than the same month last year (8m 44s compared to 10m 58s), despite more Cat 1 calls in December than any other month in 2023.

Separate weekly data to 7 January shows the NHS is making significant progress in its ambition to rollout more than 99,000 core beds to align with the expected peak in Covid and flu patients in the coming weeks. The hard work of hospital teams during the longest period of industrial action in NHS history saw the number of core beds available to admit patients to wards grow by 1,084, taking the total to 98,703.

The weekly figures also show there were an average of 1,548 flu patients in hospital each day last week, including 107 in critical care – up a sixth in a week from 1,312 w/e 31 Dec 2023. In addition to flu, other seasonal viruses continue to place pressure on hospitals across the country, with an average of 424 patients in hospital with norovirus each day last week and 4,244 patients with Covid.

Figures for last week also show that measures in the NHS’s urgent and emergency care recovery plan are working alongside extensive and robust winter plans, with the time lost to ambulance handover delays down a fifth on the same week last year, from 36,369 to 28,872 hours.

Measures rolled out across the country include care ‘traffic control centres’, more ambulance hours, extra beds, and innovative use of the NHS’s world-leading virtual ward programme.

Data released yesterday showed the impact of the six-day strike by junior doctors between 3 January and 9 January, with almost 114,000 appointments and operations having to be rescheduled.

Professor Sir Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, said: “Despite winter pressures, significant demand and over a year of regular industrial action, the sheer volume of care delivered by NHS staff for patients across the country is hugely impressive, with more people than ever before treated in November and the waiting list falling for the second month in a row.

“From one stop shops across the country aiding record numbers of diagnostic tests and robust winter plans leading to much faster ambulance response times, staff are working incredibly hard to deliver on our post pandemic recovery plans.

“We have experienced the toughest possible start to 2024 with the longest set of strikes in our 75-year history, but we remain focused on doing all we can to make progress on the covid backlog that has inevitably built up over the pandemic. While we know we have a long way to go, caring for over 1.6 million people in a single month is such important progress and makes such a huge difference for those patients who have been waiting for an appointment or operation.

“However, NHS colleagues across the country know better than anyone that the pressure is not going anywhere while the impact of flu and Covid continues to grow, so as ever the public should come forward for the care they need – contacting their GP or 111 online with any health concerns and only using 999 and A&E in emergencies.”

See our NHS England » Monthly operational statistics – January 2024 for more details.