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Peter Rigby, Director of Medical Neglience

Waiting Times Data Hub

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The NHS is one of the best-performing and most affordable healthcare systems in the world. Thousands of people use its services each day for emergency treatment, diagnoses, and surgeries. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, the NHS has unfortunately faced challenges which have impacted the ability to meet waiting time targets. The pressures of higher demand, understaffing and limited funding are leading to increased delays. As the institution struggles to find the resources to treat patients, waiting times are sadly not meeting targets.


According to the NHS, patients have the legal right to receive treatment within the set maximum waiting times. These time-frames differ for each stage of healthcare and on this page we have compiled the maximum times and key statistics for each area of diagnosis and treatment. Patient waiting times can be the difference between a positive or devastating outcome and it’s important to be aware of the operational standards for each service. Understanding the facts about medical waiting times in the UK can help you know what to expect should you need to use NHS services, and aid us in continuing to support the institution.
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A & E Waiting Times

The operational standard for A&E waiting times is that 95% of patients should be admitted, transferred, or discharged within 4 hours of their arrival at an A&E department. This is also known as the ‘four-hour performance target’ and was set out in the Handbook to the NHS Constitution. The 95% standard was last met in July 2015. Accident and emergency waiting times can be critical as delayed treatment can lead to complications and worsening of symptoms.

In November 2023, 69.7% of patients were seen within 4 hours. This is a 12.5% increase on the equivalent figure for November 2022, but still leaves 654,000 patients having to wait longer than 4 hours to be seen and discharged. In November 2023, 42,900 of these patients spent over 12 hours in A&E, which compares to 37,900 in November 2022. Not only does this risk the worsening of their condition, it can also have a harmful effect on a patient’s mental state. Waiting many hours to be seen, whilst in pain, can be stressful and unsettling.

For information on A&E waiting times for your region, see our related article on Emergency Admission wait times.

Ambulance and 999 Waiting Times

Quick ambulance and 999 response times are crucial, every second counts and can have significant impacts on a patient’s condition. A frequently asked question is what the average ambulance response time is in 2023.

As shown in the graph below, average ambulance response times for category 2 calls rose to over 42 minutes in October 2023 in England. This is the highest since they reached 93 minutes in December 2022. A category 2 call is those classed as a serious condition, such as chest pain or stroke symptoms. The official target for category 2 ambulance waiting times is 18 minutes, but the government set a new target of 30 minutes at the beginning of 2023. This was only met in one month of the year, in January. This is sadly the result of multiple factors contributing to an excessive demand for emergency services.

Source: NHS

For the other ambulance categories, waiting times have also failed to meet targets in recent months. The average response time for C1 In November 2023, the most urgent category, was 15:08, longer than the standard of 7 minutes. The C3 ambulance waiting time average in November 2023 reached 2 hours, 17 minutes, longer than the respective average in 2022.

999 call answer times however have seen recent improvement. Emergency services aim to answer 90% of 999 calls within ten seconds. Since April 2023, this standard has been met, with the average answer ranging between 4 and 8 seconds. 101 calls have similarly improved, averaging 90 seconds between March and July of 2023.

Source: NHS

Cardiac Care Waiting Times

Delays at any stage of heart care create risk of preventable complications. The British Heart Foundation published findings in September 2023 that the number of people on cardiac waiting lists has risen to a record high of 409,541. This is a 76% increase on the pre-pandemic figure from February 2020, despite the tireless work of NHS staff. They also found that 40% of people on cardiac care waiting lists are waiting over 18 weeks for treatment (where 18 weeks is the maximum NHS-waiting time for non-urgent, consultant-led treatments). Worryingly, these patients are having to endure long waits for life-saving care because of the enduring fallout of Covid-19.

The study did however see improvements in the number of people waiting over a year for time-critical heart tests and treatments. This statistic fell from 13,479 to 13,223.

Colonoscopy Waiting Times

A colonoscopy is a medical diagnosis test, checking the inside of a patient’s bowels. It is used to identify serious conditions such as bowel cancer. NHS England says patients should wait no more than six weeks for tests that can diagnose bowel cancer, and no more than two weeks to see a specialist if they’ve been referred urgently by their GP for suspected bowel cancer.

Bowel Cancer UK found that the number of people on the waiting list for a colonoscopy increased tenfold between 2019 and 2022. Taking a look at recent NHS data, it is promising to see the beginnings of improvements. The proportion of patients waiting over 6 weeks decreased by 4 percent between October 2022 and October 2023, from 39.7% to 35.7%, However this leaves 19,965 people waiting an excessive amount of time for a diagnosis. Early treatment can make a substantial difference on the outcome for a patient.

Source: Public Health Scotland

As shown in the graph above, at the end of September 2023, the waiting list for the eight key diagnostic tests sat at 151,651. Although lower than the previous year, this is sadly much higher than prior to the pandemic.

Dental Referral Waiting Times

Failing to receive dental treatment in adequate time can have severe consequences including gum disease and tooth decay. Like other areas of medical treatment, dental referral waiting times have been negatively impacted by Covid-19. Between 2021 and 2022, there were 26.4 million courses of treatment delivered, an increase of 120% compared to the previous year. However, this is only two-thirds of the average volumes that were delivered annually in the five years prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Under the NHS Constitution, the waiting times for starting non-urgent treatment should not exceed 18 weeks. The target is that 92% should receive treatment in less than this time, but this figure has not been met since March 2016. The number of people on the waiting list for dental treatment has been on the rise since the pandemic, with 20 million dental appointments having been delayed between March 2020 and June 2021.

Waiting times unfortunately deteriorated further in the following year. Data released by NHS England revealed that over 282,000 people were waiting for oral surgery at the end of November 2022, an increase of 87.6 per cent since the beginning of the year.

Looking at 2023, an NHS survey of GP Patient Dental Patients found that 75% of the 759,000 respondents were successful in getting a dental appointment between January and March. To avoid serious dental complications, it is essential that a patient gets diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible. But, success in receiving a dental appointment is dependent on a number of factors. In this same survey, respondents who had not been to the practice before were much less successful in receiving an NHS dental appointment, 33% compared with 84%. Younger adults and ethnic minorities also reported a lower success rate.

For a more in-depth guide to dental negligence, see our Dental Negligence Claims guide.

Surgery and Operations Waiting Times

As like dental surgery, all other operations should not have a waiting time exceeding 18 weeks. This is pledged in the NHS constitution and the publication also states that if your surgery is cancelled you should be offered another date within 28 days. In addition to these rules, the NHS introduced a new policy in 2014 saying that no one should wait more than 52 weeks. This was designed to prevent very long waits, as the 18 week standard was failing to be met. The graph below shows numbers of patients experiencing a 52 week surgery waiting time.

Source: The Kings Fund

Clearly, the emergence of Covid-19 had a major impact on surgical waiting times due to increased burden on the NHS. The 18 week standard was last met in September 2015, and waiting times have since been increasing. Long waits for operations can mean patients suffering with pain for an enduring period, and the possibility of existing conditions worsening.

The largest surgery waiting list is for trauma and orthopaedics, which was at more than 800,000 in March 2023. Concerningly, a long waiting time for orthopaedic surgery means that the treatment can become less effective, as the bone’s break deteriorates further.

For a detailed explanation of how an increased waiting time for hip or knee surgery can affect you, see our page focusing on knee and hip replacement waiting times.

MRI Waiting Times

Magnetic resonance imaging is a type of scan used to diagnose conditions affecting soft tissue, such as cancers, damaged ligaments and joint injuries. See our corresponding article for an explanation of Cancer Waiting Times in more detail. The NHS Constitution aims for patients to receive an MRI scan, for any prospective diagnosis, 6 weeks after their referral.

The average waiting time for an MRI scan is between 6 and 18 weeks in the UK and, in 2023, 26% of patients waited for longer than 6 weeks. This is an encouraging 3% decrease from the previous year. However, 26% equates to 365,990 people having to wait for critical diagnostic tests.

Waiting Times Negligence Claims

At Patient Claim Line we understand that whilst the NHS are working tirelessly to meet their targets, delays are prevalent in many areas of medical treatment. If you have had a condition worsen due to extended waiting times, you may have a medical negligence claim. A long waiting time can have severe physical and mental implications and we are here to help you pursue financial redress.

We’d advise that you get in touch with our team who will offer friendly guidance for the medical negligence claims process. Our solicitors will provide sensitive and comprehensive advice to help you on your journey to claim compensation.

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Meet our medical negligence team

Peter Rigby

Peter Rigby
Director of Medical Negligence

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Christian Beadell
Partner, Head of Strategy and Legal Operations

Francesca Paul

Francesca Paul
Associate Solicitor

Sion Wynne

Sion Wynne
Senior Solicitor

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