Health Foundation calls for investment and innovation as waiting list hits 5m for first time ever Health Foundation response to this month's NHS England performance statistics

10 June 2021

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

'Today’s figures are a stark reminder of the pressure the NHS faces as it works to tackle the enormous backlog in routine hospital care caused by the pandemic. 

'Nearly 3,000 people have now been waiting more than two years for a procedure which the NHS constitution promises should be performed within 18 weeks, and nearly 400,000 have been waiting over a year. The total number of people waiting for routine hospital care – 5.1 million – is now greater than at any time since records began in 2007.  

'Waits of this magnitude are not acceptable to anyone and we know that the NHS and government are working hard to find a solution. The NHS needs to increase levels of activity but this will be extremely difficult with significant workforce shortages, post-pandemic staff burnt-out and ongoing constraints on capacity due to COVID-19, including social distancing.  

'The NHS urgently needs additional resources but importantly, local services also need the freedom and support to trial and evaluate innovative new approaches to tackling the backlog and share learning across the country. Making incremental improvements to business as usual, while important, will not be enough to address a challenge of this scale.'


  • The latest NHS England performance statistics for April 2021 show 5.12 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 4.95 million in March 2021. Of those, 385,490 have been waiting more than a year.  
  • Cancer referrals and treatment now above pre-pandemic levels – 209,452 patients were seen by a specialist following an urgent referral for suspected cancer in April 2021, compared to 80,031 in April 2020 and 199,217 in April 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.

You might also like...


Webinar: Learning from international health care system responses to COVID-19


What can we learn from the approaches other countries have taken to the pandemic to help inform...


Press release

If government is serious about ‘levelling up’, it must overhaul funding for general practice

Press release

New report calls for government action on GP funding and workforce shortages to tackle unfair...

Press release

Measures to boost employment could force people into low quality work and lead to poorer health

Press release

Health Foundation response to the Department of Work and Pensions' announcement of new measures to...

Kjell-bubble-diagramArtboard 101 copy

Get social

Our new long read explores the potential of data-driven innovation to tackle the challenges facing the NHS. It inc…

Follow us on Twitter
Kjell-bubble-diagramArtboard 101

Work with us

We look for talented and passionate individuals as everyone at the Health Foundation has an important role to play.

View current vacancies
Artboard 101 copy 2

The Q community

Q is an initiative connecting people with improvement expertise across the UK.

Find out more