The number of patients having to wait more than 18 weeks for elective procedures is expected to more than double by 2019 under the current status quo, according a document leaked to the HSJ.

The publication says the presentation by NHS Improvement contains graphs showing a significant deterioration over the next two years in waiting times performance if nothing is done to upgrade services.

They indicate that the list of patients waiting more than 18 weeks could shoot up from around 370,000 in February 2017 to almost 800,000 by March 2019, while the proportion of patients waiting no more than 18 weeks is predicted to drop from 90 percent to 85 percent, the publication reports.

Also, further highlighting the issue, without intervention the overall waiting list is expected to grow from around 4 million to almost 5.5 million, far above the 3 million reportedly determined by the document to be “sustainable”.

However, a spokesperson for NHS Improvement told the publication that “doing nothing” is not an option for the NHS.

“These slides were part of a presentation to hospital leaders about steps being taken to improve NHS performance. We are working with providers to improve their overall operational productivity and to help reduce waiting times for patients,” it was stressed.

The standard of 92 percent of patients being treated within 18 weeks of referral has not been met since February 2016, and in March NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said the target could longer be guaranteed, while related financial incentives were removed.

“NHS Improvement’s waiting times estimates paint a devastating picture for patients and hammer home just how damaging deprioritising the 18-week target for planned surgery will potentially be,” Ian Eardley, vice president of the Royal College of Surgeons, told HSJ.

“Without further help from the next government after the election, this is what the real impact will be on patients of successive underfunding of the NHS”.