Published by BBC NEWS - 3rd April 2024
  • Published
Doctor looking at MRI scans on a screenImage source, Getty Images

One in five people in England are waiting for hospital care, a survey by the Office for National Statistics suggests – a much higher proportion than official NHS figures indicate.

The ONS survey suggests there are 9.7 million people waiting for treatment, an appointment or a test.

That is more than 50% higher than the 6.3 million recorded by NHS England.

But the NHS figures don’t include patients who have started treatment and are waiting for follow-up care.

These are dubbed ‘hidden waits’ – an issue which the BBC investigated earlier this year.

This poll, which has been carried out by the ONS for the first time, is the clearest indication yet of the total number of people facing hospital waits.

Nearly 90,000 people were surveyed by the ONS during January and February for NHS England. Some 21% reported they were waiting for care.

Of those who were waiting, 14% had been waiting for more than a year. That suggests there are 1.3 million people in this position – again much higher than official figures suggest.


The ONS also asked people about GP services. Of those that had tried to use a GP in the past month, 31% described contacting their surgery as difficult and 20% said their overall experience was poor.

Dr Margaret Ikpoh, of the Royal College of GPs, said: “We know how much our patients value the care that GPs and our teams offer, and we share their frustrations when they struggle to access it when they need to.”

She said years of underfunding and poor workforce planning were to blame.

A spokeswoman for NHS England urged caution when interpreting the findings of the survey, which was carried out as a pilot and relies on people self-reporting their waits.

She said progress was being made, pointing out the waiting list had fallen for four months in a row and long waits were well down from their peak.

And she said the majority of people were happy with their experience of GP care with more appointments being made available than ever before.

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