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    5 Things You Missed In Last Month's NHS Waiting List Stats

    It’s not just house price bubbles bringing the mid-noughties vibe back to Westminster. NHS waiting times are big news again.

    The health service broke one of its cancer targets recently, and journalists have been getting excited about the possibility that the number of people waiting for treatments on the NHS might break 3 million. But there are some bigger, stranger trends hidden in recent numbers. They haven't caught the press's attention yet, but might soon be coming to a front page near you.

    So, to stay ahead of the game, here are 5 important things you might have missed.

    1. Although it didn't hit 3 million the waiting list has still grown and is not following its usual trend.

    Every year, more people wait in the summer and fewer in the winter. However, this year this didn't happen and the list has stayed larger.

    Despite how it sounds, an increase in the number of people waiting is not in itself a bad thing. Think about it - you join the shortest queue in a shop, only to discover that the longer queue is moving more quickly. It doesn't necessarily matter how many people are waiting if the speed of service can increase to deal with the extra people.

    So how has the number of people leaving the NHS waiting list to start treatment changed?

    2. The numbers have gone up but not enough to reduce the size of the waiting list.

    The number of inpatients (people who stay in hospital for treatment) and outpatients (people who don’t) being treated has remained fairly steady.

    So far we've focused just on size (we hear it’s important) but what about how long people wait? The government have targets to keep an eye on this, how are they holding up? Most are fine but…

    3. The target for 90% of inpatients to receive treatment within 18 weeks was breached for the second month in a row.

    This breach means around 30,000 people in February and 35,000 in March waited more than 18 weeks for treatment. So, broadly targets are being met but this is the first time we've seen a breach in any waiting list target since March 2011, which is worrying.

    These are the minority of people who wait a long time for treatment, how have waiting times changes for the majority?

    4. The average (median) time people are waiting to start treatment is increasing for inpatients and outpatients.

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    For outpatients this might not be as bad as it first appears; a change in the stats in spring 2013 means we would expect to see a bit of a jump here, but despite this, the average inpatient and outpatient waits are still going up.

    Is it all bad news? Should we all be worried?

    5. Maybe.

    While the length of time people wait has been increasing, it's not gone up by much. For example, the average waiting time for inpatients has gone up by about 5 days since 2008. However, extra people staying on the waiting list is a real problem. A growing list means the NHS will have to work twice as hard to reduce it; not only do they need to treat the people already on the list, more people needing treatment are joining all the time.

    The fact that targets are only just being met or missed might not have attracted much attention but it could be an early warning sign. It's a situation that can easily escalate, especially given the growing pressures in the NHS. With the NHS set to be a key battleground in next year's election you're likely to hear a lot more about waiting lists over the next 11 months.

    And now you're all caught up.