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Fact check: NHS waiting lists and the Conservative manifesto

The Green Party said that ‘nearly eight million of us’ are on NHS waiting lists (Aaron Chown/PA)
The Green Party said that ‘nearly eight million of us’ are on NHS waiting lists (Aaron Chown/PA)

This summary of claims from the campaign trail has been compiled by Full Fact, the UK’s largest fact checking organisation working to find, expose and counter the harms of bad information, as part of the PA news agency’s Election Check 24.

NHS waiting lists

The Green party manifesto which launched on Wednesday claimed there are “nearly eight million of us on hospital waiting lists”. We’ve seen similar claims throughout the general election campaign, for example in a Labour party video issued in the first week which said: “Seven and a half million people are on waiting lists”.

However, this is not what NHS data shows.

Assuming the claims relate to the NHS in England (which the UK government controls) and the referral to treatment (RTT) data, which is usually what people mean by “the waiting list”, then the “nearly eight million” or “seven and a half million” figures are not the number of people waiting, but the number of cases.

The latest published NHS England data as of Wednesday was collected at the end of March 2024 (though new waiting list data is due out on Thursday). In the March 2024 data, about 6.3 million people were waiting to begin about 7.5 million courses of treatment.

There are always more cases than people in the data, because some people are awaiting treatment for more than one thing.

It’s worth noting though that the Office for National Statistics recently published survey data (collected in January and February 2024) which showed about 21% of adults in England said they were “currently waiting for a hospital appointment, test, or to start receiving medical treatment through the NHS”.

This equates to about 9.7 million adults in England, suggesting that the number of people waiting for something on the NHS may be much higher than the 6.3 million people covered by the RTT data.

Conservative manifesto

The Conservative manifesto published on Tuesday included a package of welfare reforms the party claimed “will save taxpayers £12 billion a year”.

But the Institute for Fiscal Studies has challenged that figure, saying: “The policies that have been spelt out are not up to the challenge of saving £12 billion a year. Some have already been announced and included in the official fiscal forecasts; others are unlikely to deliver sizeable savings on the timescale that the Conservatives claim.”

The manifesto also claimed that last year small boat arrivals to the UK “fell by a third”.

That’s true when comparing 2023 with 2022, but more recent provisional figures show that so far this year small boat arrivals are up 48% compared with the same period last year.

And on debt, the manifesto claimed “debt as a share of GDP is forecast to start falling next year”.

Office for Budget Responsibility figures show that this is true of overall debt, which is forecast to begin falling as a percentage of GDP in 2025/26.

But the same can’t be said for underlying debt, which is what the government’s fiscal target to get debt falling as a percentage of GDP within five years is based on.

Under this measure, debt is only forecast to begin falling as a percentage of GDP in 2028/29.

Election Check 24