Hospitals must urgently increase the number of day case procedures being carried out to help stem the growing waiting list, Simon Stevens has said. 

In an indepth interview with HSJ, the NHS England chief executive said trusts had at the beginning of 2018-19 been carrying out fewer day cases than planned in contracts.

NHS England and NHS Improvement committed in refreshed 2018-19 planning guidance published in the spring to keep the aggregate waiting list in March 2019 at a similar level to March 2018, rather than allowing it to keep growing. They also said the number of people waiting more than 52 weeks for treatment would be halved.

The most recent figures indicate the service is not so far on course for either objective.

Mr Stevens told HSJ: “We clearly need to see a ramp up of elective operating occurring before late autumn/early winter… We should be expecting to see big increases over the next several months.”

He said that while bed shortages meant there were limitations on operations requiring overnight stays, “it’s hard to understand why we wouldn’t be seeing the kinds of increases in day case operating” which are planned in contracts.

He said: “These are plans that trusts and [clinical commissioning groups] have between them agreed… The point is the time to ramp up elective activity is now not in November or February. Based on the first couple of months’ worth of data there needs to be a bigger ramp up.”

The total waiting list in May was 4.08 million, up from 3.84 in March and 3.73 in March 2017.