Is the Elective Recovery Plan in England working for people with arthritis?

04 April 2023

“I had lots of bad days waiting for the hip replacement. You don’t think you can make it one day to the other sometimes”

Brenda, 63, who has osteoarthritis

Many people, like Brenda, have faced long, agonising waiting times for joint replacement surgeries, such as knee or hip replacements.

In 2022, the Government and NHS England published their joint plan to tackle the long waiting lists for planned hospital treatment, which included joint replacement surgeries. This is called the Elective Recovery Plan.

One of its most important targets was that no one should wait longer than eighteen months for joint replacement surgery by April 2023.

Now that it’s April, we want to reflect on the progress made for people with arthritis and outline what more can be done to support those still waiting for treatment.

How did we get here?

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been felt throughout our community. Widespread cancellation of planned operations left people with arthritis waiting in unbearable pain.

That’s why, in 2021, we launched our Impossible to Ignore campaign, calling for UK governments to tackle the backlog.

An incredible 46,000 of you signed our petition calling for national plans to be published across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

UK governments heard us loud and clear.

In response to this pressure, the Government and NHS England published its Elective Recovery Plan in 2022, which outlined several targets and measures to reduce waiting times. This was followed by plans in the devolved nations too.

One year on: has the Elective Recovery Plan worked for people with arthritis?

There have been many successes this year as well as setbacks.

As of December 2022, 800,000 people are still on trauma and orthopaedic waiting lists (which includes hip and knee operations) and make up approximately 11% of the overall waiting list.

Positively, NHS England met its target ensuring that no one waits longer than 2 years for surgery in July 2022.

We hope that its target that no one should wait longer than 18 months will be met by April 2023 (This will be announced in July).

Meeting these targets helps end the pain and huge impact of waiting for surgery for some of you. However, more needs to be done to ensure that planned surgery can go ahead and that the right support and information is available to you as you wait.

Listening to people with arthritis

The views and experiences of people with arthritis have been central to our campaigning on this issue.

In May last year, we surveyed people with arthritis to see what was most important to you. From the stories you shared, we developed our key asks to all four UK governments. These included:

  • Protecting elective surgery. These are surgeries which are planned in advance such as hip and knee replacements.
  • Better information and support for those waiting for surgery.

Ensuring elective surgery is protected

To make sure that desperately needed surgeries can go ahead, we have been calling for ringfenced surgical capacity. This means setting resources and staff aside specifically for surgeries to protect this work from other pressures in the NHS.

We have also called for a plan to tackle NHS staffing challenges to make sure waiting times continue to stay at reasonable levels in the future.

Surgical hubs can also help. These are locations which specialise in surgeries like hip and knee operations and have a dedicated team of surgery staff. So, we were pleased that some surgical hubs were announced as part of the plan, and more were announced last year.

Now we need these surgical hubs to deliver for everyone. Their roll-out needs to happen quickly across the UK – something we’ll continue to fight for throughout 2023.

Communicating with those waiting

We know that good information and support is key for people waiting for surgery.

That’s why we worked with NHS Partners to help shape the My Planned Care patient platform, a website which provides details on waiting times and signposts to support.

We know the platform is useful for some of you, but it can and should be better. So, we’re still working with the NHS to make sure it meets your needs as you wait for surgery.

Looking forward

Although we’ve seen some progress, more needs to be done for the 800,000 people with arthritis waiting for surgery.

That’s why we’ll continue to campaign for waiting lists to be prioritised, and for people with arthritis to get the right support and information they need while they wait.

And, throughout all this, we’ll continue to listen to you and ensure your voices inform all our campaigning work