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What could happen to NHS waiting lists in England?

Since the start of the pandemic, the number of people waiting for NHS treatment in England has grown to more than 5 million - the highest level since comparable records began.

Yet the number of people on the waiting list is expected to rise further. Sajid Javid, the Health and Social Care Secretary, recently warned that NHS waiting lists in England could reach 13 million.

Could waiting lists really go that high? This tool allows you to explore how the waiting list might evolve under various assumptions, and to understand the conditions under which Mr Javid's 13 million figure could arise. For more detail on how these scenarios are calculated, and on how NHS waiting lists evolved before and during the pandemic, see our IFS Observation.

Instructions: Use the sliders or number inputs to adjust the parameters. Hover your mouse over a parameter to get more details. Click "Create New Scenario" to save the current scenario to the graph and create a new one. Click "Reset" to remove all scenarios from the graph and reset the parameters to their default. The default parameters are those we used in scenario three of our IFS Observation.


Note: These scenarios are for illustrative purposes only and may not be attributed to the IFS or the Nuffield Foundation. Any scenario generated is an illustration of what could happen based on the parameters chosen, and does not represent the views of the IFS or the Nuffield Foundation. Between June and September 2021, we assume that the percentage of numbers joining the waiting list compared to 2019 increases linearly from its true value in May (86% of 2019 levels) to the level you have selected for 2021-22 in September.

Source: Authors' calculations using NHS Digital's RTT Waiting Times. See IFS Observation for more details on how the scenarios are calculated.

Funding: The project has been funded by the Nuffield Foundation under grant reference WEL/43516, as an early output of the 2021 IFS Green Budget. The Nuffield Foundation is an independent charitable trust with a mission to advance social well-being. It funds research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare, and Justice. It also funds student programmes that provide opportunities for young people to develop skills in quantitative and scientific methods. The Nuffield Foundation is the founder and co-funder of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics and the Ada Lovelace Institute. The Foundation has funded this project, but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily of the Foundation. Visit

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