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Rishi Sunak’s NHS pledge one year on: Waiting lists up at the Royal Free London

99,158 patients were waiting for treatment at the main hospital trust covering Barnet at the end of January – up from 89,934 in January 2023 reports Will Grimond, Data Reporter

UK prime minister Rishi Sunak talking to NHS staff
Nationally, 6.32 million patients were waiting for 7.58 million treatments at the end of January – (Credit – Radar)

More people were waiting for treatment at the Royal Free London in January than were a year before, figures show.

In January 2023 prime minister Rishi Sunak made five pledges to the British public – including a promise that “NHS waiting lists will fall and people will get the care they need more quickly”.

With figures now available for this January, the PM has failed to cut waiting lists at the Royal Free London, and across England.

NHS England figures show 99,158 patients were waiting for non-urgent elective operations or treatment at Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust at the end of January – up slightly from 98,257 in December, and 89,934 in January 2023.

Of those, 4,974 (5%) had been waiting for longer than a year.

The median waiting time from referral at an NHS Trust to treatment at the Royal Free London was 15 weeks at the end of January – up from 14 weeks in January 2023.

In better news for the PM, January saw the fourth consecutive month-on-month fall across England, although 250,000 more patients were waiting than in January last year. Nationally, 6.32 million patients were waiting for 7.58 million treatments at the end of January.

Sunak admitted to failing to keep this pledge in an interview with TalkTV in February.

However, this week Health Secretary Victoria Atkins said the Government’s “commitment to cutting waiting times is unwavering”.

She added: “This has been achieved despite disruptive strikes and record winter pressures on our NHS services.”

Meanwhile, shadow health secretary Wes Streeting accused the Government of having “broken every pledge” on NHS waits.

The Health Foundation said despite some progress, the NHS has a “mountain to climb” on waiting lists.

Tim Gardner, assistant director for policy at the charity, said there was no “silver bullet”, but investment and long-term action would help relieve pressures on the health service.

Separate figures show 1.6 million patients in England were waiting for a key diagnostic test in January – the same as in December.

At the Royal Free London, 17,657 patients were waiting for one of 14 standard tests, such as an MRI scan, non-obstetric ultrasound or gastroscopy at this time.

Of them, 994 (6%) had been waiting for at least six weeks.

Professor Sir Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, said “demand for NHS services across the country remains high”.

He said: “It is testament to the hard work of staff and the measures in our elective recovery plan that despite the longest period of industrial action in NHS history in January, with one in five days affected, staff still managed to bring the waiting list down.”

He added that staff are using new technologies to bring down the longest waits for patients.


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