Jump the NHS waiting list: Tips to get surgery sooner

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The maximum NHS waiting 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.

People waiting in a line on the NHS waiting list

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How to speed up the NHS waiting list and have your NHS surgery sooner

If you or a loved one are in pain and your wait for care is affecting your quality of life, read on to discover how you could have your NHS surgery sooner.

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:

How long is the current NHS waiting list?

This depends on a few factors. Location and the type of treatment you need are the main two. The NHS aims to treat all patients, regardless of need within 18 weeks of their consultation. This however isn’t always possible, and funding issues along with the COVID pandemic have resulted in patient backlogs.

Currently at the Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, orthopaedic patients can expect to wait 17 weeks (just over four months) for their initial consultation and another 20 weeks (five months) for the treatment itself1. However, at the Northern Care Alliance NHS Group hospital in the Northwest, patients can expect similar waiting times for treatment but one of 12 weeks for their initial appointment2. This means orthopaedic patients at this hospital typically have a shorter waiting list by around five weeks than those at the Royal Gloucester. All current NHS waiting times are available at My Planned Care.

Why does the NHS have such long waiting lists?

NHS health 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:

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.

Can I pay to jump the NHS queue?

In a word: no. However, there are some ways to get your treatment quicker. If you definitely want to go down the NHS route for your healthcare, you have the option of traveling around. While the waiting list in your area might be long, hospitals in the next county or in another region of England may be shorter. You have the right to choose which hospital you have your treatment, so it’s worth doing some research before deciding.

The other option is to go private. Private hospitals generally have much shorter waiting lists. At Practice Plus Group, you’ll have your surgery in just 4-6 weeks of your initial consultation.

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 4-6 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 of your initial consultation. This costs £95 and includes any blood tests and diagnostic tests required to decide on the best course of action. We pride ourselves on our excellent levels of patient care and are committed to honest, transparent pricing.

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