Difficulties accessing NHS treatment were a persistent feature throughout the winter months, with around one fifth of Britons reporting that they were waiting for a hospital appointment, a test, or to start receiving medical treatment, latest figures showed.
Rising food and energy bills took a toll during the period, most severely impacting people from the most deprived areas, those with depressive symptoms, the disabled, and younger adults, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The survey, Tracking the impact of winter pressures in Great Britain, examined how increases in the cost of living and difficulty accessing NHS services had impacted people's lives between 22 November 2022 and 26 February 2023. The latest reporting period covered the second half of February and included responses from 4494 adults who had taken part in the previous winter survey up until 8 January.
NHS Waits, Food Prices, and Energy Bills
The consolidated findings suggested that:
- 21% of adults reported that they were waiting for a hospital appointment, test, or to start receiving medical treatment through the NHS
- 5% of adults reported that they had run out of food and not been able to afford to buy more in the previous 2 weeks
- 20% of adults reported that they were occasionally, hardly ever, or never able to keep comfortably warm in the past 2 weeks
- 13% of people who experienced moderate-to-severe depressive symptoms persistently reported running out of food and not being able to afford more in the previous 2 weeks
- 25% of people who lived in the most deprived areas of England, said they were occasionally, hardly ever, or never able to keep comfortably warm in the past 2 weeks
- 31% of disabled adults persistently reported that they were waiting for a hospital appointment, test, or to start receiving medical treatment from the NHS
- 22% of people aged 16 to 29 years reported that they were occasionally, hardly ever, or never able to keep comfortably warm over the 2-week period
Hospital Waiting Times 'A Big Issue'
Previous results from the ONS winter survey had suggested that difficulties accessing NHS treatment had significantly affected people's quality of life. One survey contributor said that accessing the NHS had been the "biggest issue" over the winter, while another said that not knowing how long they would have to wait for surgery "does sometimes cause anxiety when I think about it too much".
The latest statistics showed that the proportion of adults who reported waiting for a hospital appointment, test, or to start NHS medical treatment remained stable across the last two winter sampling periods. Of the 21% who reported a wait, 14% had persistently reported this to be the case, and 7% said they had been waiting in the latest period only. The same proportion (7%) said they were waiting in the previous period but were no longer waiting in the latest period.
Disabled people, those with depressive symptoms, the economically inactive, and older and retired people were most likely to report hospital waits, the results showed.
Statisticians noted that, although inflation eased slightly in March, pressures on the cost of living from food prices remained. The ability of people to keep warm over the winter months might have been helped by relatively warmer weather in the UK than average during February, they added.