Britain in numbers

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March 16, 2022

The NHS crisis in numbers

How ambulance and hospital waiting times have grown

By Ben Walker

Tens of millions of Britons use the NHS each year. Waiting times are key to a patient's experience, and whether that means the wait for an ambulance or the wait for treatment, the length of time spent doing it has risen to a record high in recent years, a rise that predates the coronavirus crisis.

In February 2020, a month before before Covid-19 hit the UK, the number of people on a waiting list for hospital treatment was already at what was then a record high. The first nationwide lockdown did little to alleviate the issue. It at first muted that problem, then exacerbated it as patients sought to rebook their treatment once government restrictions were lifted.

Treatment waiting times

In January 2022 the number of referrals to treatment hit 6.1 million, almost two million more than before the pandemic. The percentage of referrals waiting more than 18 weeks for treatment hit 37 per cent, and the percentage waiting for more than 52 weeks stood at 5 per cent.

In 2012 just one in twenty people had to endure a long wait for treatment, but by 2017 that was one in ten. At the onset of the first lockdown it had climbed to to more than one in five.

When it comes to ambulance waiting times, the pattern continues. While the NHS has generally responded to life-threatening calls within the target response time (eight minutes), since June 2021 it has struggled. In October it took an ambulance an average of nine minutes to respond to a life-threatening call, the highest since records began.

Emergency call-outs, meanwhile, for example for instances of stroke or chest pain, have only met the set target of 18 minutes once. In October to December 2021 there were some of the longest waits for an ambulance for a category 2 call-out on record.

These key metrics illustrate how far from the targets the NHS has been, both before and during the coronavirus crisis. This page and its charts will be updated as more data becomes available.

Ambulance response times

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