Responding to the publication of NHS England’s monthly performance statistics, Tim Gardner, Senior Policy Fellow at the Health Foundation, said:  

'The NHS is beginning to show promising signs of recovery after the extreme strain placed on it by COVID-19. The numbers of people being referred and treated for cancer is now above pre-pandemic levels, while important progress has been made towards getting routine hospital procedures back on track.

'However, the latest figures continue to highlight the significant and growing backlog in routine hospital care, with nearly 5 million patients now on the waiting list and over 400,000 waiting longer than a year for treatment. Such long waits risks patients becoming more ill and having worse outcomes when they do receive treatment.

'Only by addressing significant and long-standing workforce shortages and making substantial investment in infrastructure and technology, will the government avoid the political and human cost of growing numbers of people waiting too long for the care they need. 

'Ongoing under-investment in the NHS and social care made them vulnerable to national emergencies like COVID-19. The public inquiry into the handling of the pandemic needs to start as soon as possible to ensure that lessons are learnt quickly and the country is better prepared for any major threats to public health in the future.'


  • The latest NHS England performance statistics for March 2021 show 4.95 million people on the waiting list for routine hospital care, such as hip and knee replacements. This is the largest waiting list reported since records began in 2007 and an increase from 4.7 million in February 2021. Of those, 436,127 have been waiting more than a year.  
  • Cancer referrals and treatment now above pre-pandemic levels – 232,084 patients were seen by a specialist following an urgent referral for suspected cancer in March 2021, compared to 183,603 in March 2020 and 198,418 in March 2019. 

Media contact

Creina Lilburne
07941 156 827

Further reading


Longer waits, missing patients and catching up


Six charts looking at the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on consultant-led elective care.

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