The number of cases waiting longer than the target time for elective care in England, Scotland and Wales has rocketed in the last decade, FactCheck analysis reveals.

These are planned, and often life-changing, treatments like hip replacements and cataracts surgery.

Each nation of Great Britain is in charge of its own health service and sets its own target for when elective patients should begin treatment.

For that reason, it’s not possible to say from our analysis whether any nation’s NHS is objectively better or worse than another when it comes to elective care.

But we can track how each nation has performed against the benchmarks it sets for itself.

(We’ll be talking about “cases” and “waits” rather than patients as some people are on the waiting list for more than one treatment – for example, if they need both a knee operation and cataracts surgery.)

• Labour-run Wales has a target to treat 95 per cent of patients within 26 weeks. But our analysis finds the backlog of cases still waiting after that target time is nearly eight times larger than it was ten years ago.

• Under the Conservatives in England, the NHS has a different target: to treat people within 18 weeks of a GP referral. But FactCheck analysis finds that this part of the waiting list is now 19 times bigger than it was in 2013.

• And in SNP-run Scotland, there are two key targets. One is to see outpatients within 12 weeks. We calculate that part of the waiting list is now 30 times larger than it was 10 years ago.

• Scotland’s second target is to start inpatient treatment within 12 weeks. Our analysis finds that the above-target backlog is now 132 times bigger than it was in 2013.

We reached our figures by taking monthly data from each nation’s health service and averaging it by calendar year.

The Scottish government suggested an alternative approach would be to compare its monthly data for March only, rather than taking an annual average, as we don’t yet have a full year of statistics for 2024.

It ran this calculation for us and said on that basis, above-target outpatient waits have risen 41-fold since 2013, with a 167-fold rise for inpatient cases. That’s even larger than the rises we’ve estimated in our analysis.

Now, these planned care waiting lists are only one aspect of NHS performance and are not directly comparable between nations because they’re each working to their own different targets.

As FactCheck recently reported, on an important metric that is directly comparable – patients waiting more than four hours in A&E – Scotland actually performs better than England or Wales.

So overall, we can’t say which nation’s NHS is performing best. But we can see that all three nations are wrestling with major backlogs of cases waiting longer than national target times for planned care.

The Welsh government told us it’s invested £170 million to address waits longer than two years – which it says have continued to fall.

The Scottish government says it’s “making progress” and investing £30m in national and local plans to reduce backlogs.

In England, the Conservatives said they are “sticking with the clear plan to further cut waiting lists” and will take the “bold action necessary”.

(Image credit: Tolga Akmen/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)