Lay Summary

The NHS in England cannot treat every patient immediately. Patients with urgent health needs will often be seen within hours. Other patients with less urgent needs often wait weeks or months before they are seen by a doctor or receive care. This includes patients waiting for surgery such as hip replacements or eye surgery.

The NHS waiting list for less urgent treatments has grown steadily since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. There are now several million people waiting for planned surgeries. Planned surgeries are those which can be booked in advance after a patient has seen a doctor who specialises in their health condition. Some patients can expect to wait over a year before they have surgery.

Patients may become unwell when they are waiting for their surgery. This means that some patients may not be able to live a normal life while they are awaiting treatment. Their health condition may also get worse, and treatment may become less effective. But how should the NHS decide which patient groups to treat first?

In this research study we will study how waiting for planned surgery affects patients’ health. We will work out the health effects of waiting for some common forms of surgery. We will study how waiting affects how long patients can expect to live and what quality-of-life they have. We will look at this using information from clinical studies and hospital medical records. We think that the negative effects of waiting are worse for some types of surgery (e.g. heart surgery) than others (e.g. hip replacement). Our research will help NHS managers decide which waiting lists they should tackle first.