People living in the poorest areas waiting longer for hospital treatment

The King’s Fund and Healthwatch England jointly call for urgent action to address hospital waiting lists and improve patients’ experience of delays to treatment.
Male patient sitting on a bed talking to a male doctor. Both are wearing masks.

People living in deprived areas waiting longer

New analysis from The King’s Fund shows that people living in the most deprived areas in England are nearly twice as likely to experience a wait of over one year for hospital care than those in the most affluent. This includes people waiting for planned hospital treatment such as knee and hip replacements, cataract surgery and other common procedures.  

It shows that more than seven per cent of patients on waiting lists in the most deprived areas of the country have been waiting a year or more for treatment compared to around four per cent of those in the least deprived.    

With a record 5.6 million people across the country currently waiting for hospital treatment, the analysis also shows that waiting lists are growing more quickly in deprived areas. From April 2020 to July 2021 waiting lists have on average grown by 55 per cent in the most deprived parts of the country compared to 36 per cent in the least deprived areas. 

This trend suggests that people feel safer about coming forward for treatment and are being referred for the care they need. However, the disparities in waiting times uncovered by The King's Fund are a significant concern on top of the impact of the pandemic which hit the most deprived communities hardest.  

The impact on people's health and wellbeing

A national poll by Healthwatch England of over 1,600 British adults who are currently waiting for planned treatment or who have a relative who is waiting suggests delays to treatment can take a toll on their health and wellbeing.  

We found nearly half of the respondents (46%) said they or their relatives didn’t receive enough information, or any at all, about when they can expect their treatment. Similarly, 48% didn’t receive any support to manage their condition during their wait, while 64% had not been given a contact they could turn to while waiting for treatment.   

It also found:  

  • Over half (57%) of those whose treatment got delayed agreed that this was taking a toll on the level of pain they faced. 
  • 54% agreed their mental health had been affected. 
  • 53% said their ability to carry out household tasks had been affected. 
  • 42% felt that their ability to work had been affected.  
  • Nearly one in five people, 18%, have already gone private for treatment or are considering it. 
  • Going private wasn’t an option for nearly one in two (47%) respondents who had their treatment delayed. 
  • Over half of the respondents (57%) said they or their relatives would be willing to travel to receive treatment if it reduced their waiting time. 
  • One in five would be willing to travel if the NHS offered support, such as accommodation (10%) and transport (10%). 
I feel mentally and physically exhausted – I can barely walk and take my children to school as pain is always worse in the morning. As I’ve been unsupported medically, and I don’t know how serious the illness is.
— Toby, 42, has been waiting for referral to rheumatology department well over a year

How to improve people's experiences of waiting

The recommendations made by Healthwatch England for NHS England based on your feedback:

  • Provide personalised, clear, accurate and consistent communication to people waiting for NHS treatment, consultation and surgery, including where they are on the waiting list. 

  • Keep people informed about the next steps for their treatment. 

  • Provide a point of contact for people on waiting lists to turn to for advice and support.

  • Put in place interim support, such as physiotherapy, pain relief and mental health support.

  • Put in place a system to better manage waiting lists, with a focus on diagnostics to identify what is wrong and better prioritise urgent treatment.

  • Re-prioritise treatment if people’s needs change. 

Are you one of the 5 million people waiting for treatment?

We know that not everyone is getting the help they need while they wait for care. That’s why we’ve launched a national survey to understand your experiences.  

Everything you tell us is confidential and will help us and the NHS understand what needs to be put in place to better support people like you.

So whether it’s gynaecological surgery, a knee replacement or a biopsy you’re waiting for, if you’ve got a story to tell, we want to hear it. 

Share your views with us 

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