Thousands Facing an Agonising Wait for Joint Replacement Surgery

23 February 2020
Rob martinez shares his joint replacement story.

Everyone in England has a right to start joint replacement treatment within 18 weeks of referral. But new figures published today reveal people are waiting far longer.

We've released figures which show that NHS Trusts across England are failing to deliver joint replacement surgeries within the guaranteed waiting time of 18 weeks. At least 30,000 people waited more than 18 weeks for a joint replacement last year, leaving many in agony and at risk of deteriorating physical and mental health.  

Data from 57 NHS Trusts, covering a total of 63,464 surgeries, revealed that: 

  • Almost half of those who had a hip or knee joint replacement waited more than 18 weeks. 
  • Over a quarter waited more than six months.
  • At least 2,400 people waited over a year. 

With only 57 of the 135 Trusts that perform knee and hip replacements across England responding to the request for information, we want to raise awareness that many more people could be facing long waits for treatment, and poorer physical and mental health. The national statistics on joint replacement waiting times are not routinely published, so the full truth is unknown. 

Dr Liam O’Toole, CEO of Versus Arthritis, said:

“Joint replacement surgeries are life-changing – but far too many people with arthritis aren’t getting them when they need them. In the last year alone, almost 30,000 people in England waited more than 18 weeks for a new hip or knee. For people with arthritis that wait is agonising. It stops them working; causes their physical and mental health to get worse; and affects their relationships.  

“Put simply, this snapshot paints a devastating picture and in reality, it’s likely to be just the tip of the iceberg. We are deeply concerned that even more people with arthritis will be stuck on waiting lists. That would be unacceptable.” 

Rob Martinez, 62, from Berkshire, has been waiting for a new knee since October 2019:

“I’ve been told I won’t get my first operation until Easter at the earliest and will have to wait even longer for my second. It’s been incredibly tough, and on dark days I feel like giving up, but it’s important to try and stay positive. A maximum waiting time target gives people like me certainty that the pain will end and there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”

In England, people who need planned surgery have a legal right to start treatment with a consultant, within 18-weeks of referral from a GP. This right is set out in the NHS Constitution. However, this right is now under review.  

We believe this is a “crucial patient right” because it gives people with arthritis a guarantee of when the NHS will treat them, and that it must be preserved.  

Our new campaign Right on Time is calling for urgent government action to fix joint replacement waiting times. We want:

  • The Government to keep people’s NHS guarantee to treatment within 18 weeks  
  • An NHS action plan to improve access to joint replacement and reduce waiting times 
  • Increased accountability for the NHS to deliver joint replacements  
  • The regular publication of waiting times for joint replacement surgery  

Add your name to our petition today to protect your NHS rights. Together, we must demand change to bring down waiting times.