Nearly 35,000 patients a month waited for 12 hours or more for a hospital bed in 2023, new FactCheck analysis of NHS England data reveals. That’s more than 3,000 times higher than in 2011.

These are patients who have come to hospital for emergency treatment. Staff have decided their condition is so serious they should be admitted straightaway, but they’re waiting half a day – or more – for a bed to become available.

In the early 2010s, this situation was almost unheard of: there were some months when no-one in England’s entire health service waited this long. Now, it affects tens of thousands in an average month.

Our analysis also reveals that over the same period:

These are some of the key ways the NHS has measured its own performance over the past 13 years, though the two-week cancer wait was dropped in October 2023 and replaced with the 28-day “Faster Diagnosis Standard”. That move was welcomed by Cancer Research UK as the new target accounts for the time it takes to get test results back to confirm or rule out cancer.

We reached our figures by calculating an average for each year based on monthly data published by the NHS and comparing each year’s average over time.

As FactCheck reported last year when we looked at data up to 2022, the problems in England’s NHS began before the pandemic.

There was an on-paper reprieve in 2020 as people stayed away from the health service in early lockdowns thinking they were protecting it (despite NHS bosses encouraging people to seek treatment if they needed it).

But in 2021, the combined effect of pent-up demand from 2020 and the virus itself drove waiting times and waiting lists up significantly.

Last year, we reported that 2022 figures were at least ten times higher than 2011 on all four of our key measures.

The most recent data shows slight improvement on two fronts – with the number of four-hour trolley waits and over-two-week cancer waits reducing compared to the previous year. But over the same time, the number of people waiting four hours in A&E rose, along with the number of people on the elective care list after 18 weeks.

NHS England told us that the number of patients seeking treatment has risen significantly and that people need more care when they reach the health service. They also pointed out that it’s become harder to discharge patients in a timely way due to limited social and community care capacity.

They told us more people were treated in November 2023 than ever before – with the NHS seeing 10 per cent more patients than they did in November 2019.

The Department for Health and Social Care told FactCheck: “The government is reforming our health system to make it faster, simpler, and fairer for patients. We’re providing record funding for the NHS, we’ve met our pledge to recruit 50,000 more nurses early, and we’ve put in place the first ever NHS Long Term Workforce Plan to make sure the NHS has the staff it needs in the years ahead.

“We’re supporting the NHS to recover from the pandemic and deal with the Covid backlog. Cutting waiting lists is one of the government’s top five priorities.

“November was the first month without industrial action for over a year and we reduced the total waiting list by more than 95,000– the biggest decrease since December 2010, outside of the pandemic.”

(Credit: Photo by Guy Bell/Shutterstock )