Delays to NHS care: understanding the impact

With record NHS waiting times, the ongoing impact of the pandemic, and industrial action in the NHS, Healthwatch England has conducted research to understand the extent to which NHS patients are having their care disrupted and the impact this is having.


New research reveals that more than two-thirds of individuals whose NHS care has been cancelled or postponed in 2023 have experienced significant impacts on their lives or symptoms.

The survey has also found that many people have experienced delays to planned care two or more times and that many often find out with little or no notice.

Some of the findings

After surveying NHS users, 25% of people said they had experienced a delay or cancellation in their care in 2023. As a result, Healthwatch England decided to look more closely experiences of those whose care has been disrupted.

Further research with 1,084 people who had had care cancelled this year revealed a significant impact on people’s lives and the inequalities regarding who is most affected.

39% had their care postponed or cancelled on two or more occasions.

Certain groups were more likely to report that their care had been cancelled multiple times. These included disabled people, 52%; neurodivergent people, 51%; and people on lower incomes, ethnic minorities and LGBTQ+ being affected the most, 49% respectively.

18% of people had their care cancelled or postponed at the last minute, which the NHS defines as on the day or on arrival to the appointment.

45% experienced a cancellation with between one and seven days’ notice.

As the report is published, Healthwatch England is calling for the NHS to:

Collect and publish official data on cancellations to understand what is driving non-clinical, clinical or patient-led reasons for delays;

Use this data to reduce the high number of last-minute cancellations;

Offer more significant support to those most affected by new delays, especially with mental health needs; and

Improve administrative processes and communications to close the gap for those who are left in limbo with no new date.

We are also renewing our calls for all parties in the NHS pay dispute to get back around the table and reach a resolution to mitigate the impact of strikes on cancellations or postponements.

You can find out more about the Healthwatch England study and download the full report here