The maximum NHS waiting list time for non-urgent consultant-led treatments is 18 weeks, and if you have to wait longer this is known as a ‘breach’. With a little research and discussion with your GP or other referring clinician, it is possible to receive such treatment well within the 18-week maximum period.
Get a better understanding of NHS surgery waiting times and what you can do to speed up the process.
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How to move up on the waiting list and have your NHS surgery sooner
If you or a loved one are in pain and your wait for treatment is affecting your quality of life, read on to discover how you could have your NHS surgery sooner.
- When you are choosing where you might receive NHS hospital treatment, always research individual hospitals’ waiting times. You can do this by using the NHS e-Referral Service (the information comes up in a drop down menu called ‘Services Near You’) or by checking hospital websites. Many update their waiting times at least weekly and it can be a good way to see which hospital or clinic has the capacity to see you sooner. Your access to the NHS e-Referral Service will be given to you by your GP.
- The waiting period starts from when the hospital of your choice receives your referral letter, or when the first appointment is booked via the NHS e-Referral Service. So the sooner you choose where to be treated, the sooner your surgery should be booked.
- NHS patients have the right to choose where they receive NHS treatment. You will be offered a number of suitable options by your GP, referring clinician or the NHS e-Referral Service. You can do your own research and suggest your preference to your GP too. A good track record on waiting times should play an important role in how you make your decision if you want to be treated as soon as possible. Always remember that it is your right to choose where you receive your NHS treatment. You can find more information about patient choice here.
NHS waiting times for operations explained
Surgery waiting times in the NHS can be long and can vary depending on your location and the surgery you require.
Find some more information about surgery waiting times for specific treatments in our guides:
- Waiting times for knee replacement
- Hip replacement waiting times
- Cataract surgery waiting times
- Carpal tunnel surgery waiting times
- MRI waiting times
Why does the NHS have such long waiting lists?
NHS services face several challenges that can lead to long waits. High demand, limited resources, NHS staff shortages, and budget constraints have all contributed. The global pandemic exacerbated these challenges and returning to pre-pandemic levels has been difficult. Despite this, NHS care can offer high-quality, specialised surgery, and treatment.
What is the longest wait time for NHS patients?
Although the maximum waiting time for non-urgent consultant-led treatments is 18 weeks, there are instances where this does not apply including – if you choose to wait longer; if it is in your interest to delay treatment so you can, say, lose weight or stop smoking; if your condition is better monitored than treated; if you fail to attend appointments that you chose from the choice available to you, or; you no longer need the treatment.
Sometimes operations are cancelled. If this happens at the last moment (on or after the date of admission) and due to non-clinical reasons, you should be offered another date within 28 days or have your treatment funded at a time and place of your choice.
These rights do not apply if your operation is cancelled before your admission date, but it is still your right to start treatment within a maximum waiting time. If the cancellation means you are waiting for longer, you can ask the hospital or your local Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to move you to a different waiting list.
NHS e-referral waiting times
The NHS e-Referral is a system that allows your GP to provide a referral to treatment electronically. It’s designed to streamline the referral process. NHS referral waiting times are 18 weeks for non-urgent treatments.
How long after consultation is surgery on the NHS?
This can depend on the nature of your medical condition, the clinical urgency of your case, current demand and the availability of resources. The maximum waiting time target for non-urgent consultant-led NHS treatments is 18 weeks.
How can I speed up my NHS referral?
In addition to our tips above, here are some more ways to speed up your referral and have your surgery sooner:
- talk to your GP about your concerns
- provide your GP with all of your medical history and health issues to ensure they have the information they need to assess the urgency of your problem
- regularly follow up with your GP and attend all appointments
- if your condition gets worse, contact your GP straight away
- choose a different hospital with shorter waiting times
- you could try asking for a second opinion if you believe your case is more urgent
- consider private treatment.
Where am I on the NHS waiting list?
To find out where you are on the NHS waiting list, use the NHS waiting list tracker My Planned Care to find out the waiting time in your local area. Look up your local hospital and see what the waiting time is for a particular speciality.
Compare private vs NHS waiting times for surgery
The number of people on the NHS waiting list for consultant-led elective care is now over 6 million – you can find out more details about the NHS waiting list backlog on the BMA website.
Private surgery waiting times in the UK can vary depending on the provider. At Practice Plus Group, the expected wait time is around 3-6 weeks from your initial outpatient appointment.
How can I get my surgery quicker?
We offer free non-urgent NHS treatments within the recommended 18 weeks at our various treatment centres across the country – visit your local hospital’s website to see waiting times by treatment type and check if you could be seen sooner.
Alternatively, you could choose our self-pay option to get treated by specialist consultants within 4-6 weeks.