Press release

Statistical press notice: NHS diagnostics waiting times and activity data, March 2012

Main Points - March 2012 Data are published on waiting times and activity for 15 key diagnostic tests for the month of March 2012.  The key…

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government


Main Points - March 2012

Data are published on waiting times and activity for 15 key diagnostic tests for the month of March 2012.  The key points are:

  • At the end of March 2012, there were 625,000 patients still waiting for one of 15 key diagnostic tests, and of these 4,300 were waiting 6 weeks or over from referral.  The number waiting 6 weeks or longer shows a decrease of 1,200 from February 2012, and 6,500 from March 2011.
  • The 4,300 waiting over 6 weeks or longer represents 0.7% of all patients waiting for a test.  This compares to 0.9% at the end of February 2012 and 1.9% at then end of March 2011.
  • In total, 1,414,000 of the 15 key diagnostic tests were performed during March 2012.  During the year 2011/12, a total of 15,874,000 tests were performed. This represents a 5.5% increase on 2010/11.
  • Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust did not submit data this month.
  • Tables 1 and 2 show latest figures on waiting times and activity by test. Table 3 and Graph 1 show trends in waiting times for diagnostic tests.
  • Detailed tables by provider and commissioner can be found on the DH website.

Mar12 Diagnostics Stats PN - Tables

Statistical Notes

1. Diagnostic waiting times

Diagnostics data is collected from NHS providers (NHS Trusts and other providers) and signed off by commissioners (Primary Care Trusts).

The data measures current waiting times of patient still waiting at the end of the month.  This information is split by number of weeks waiting, and by test.

The waiting times reported are for those patients who have been referred for a test, but whose test had not taken place by the end of the reporting period. 

Data was first published in May 2006, and is available for each month from January 2006 to date.

The six week diagnostic wait was initially introduced as a ‘milestone’ from March 2008 towards achieving the standard Referral to Treatment wait of 18 weeks by December 2008.

The NHS Operating Framework, 2012/2013 has introduced an expectation that less than 1 per cent of patients should wait six weeks or longer for a diagnostic test.  This publication also measures progress against this standard.

2. Provider and Commissioner based data

England figures quoted are commissioner based. Commissioner based returns reflect data for patients for whom English commissioners are responsible.  This is defined as: 
• all those patients resident within the PCT boundary; plus
• all patients registered with GPs who are members of the PCT, but are resident in another PCT; minus
• All patients resident in the PCT, but registered with a GP who is a member of another PCT

Provider based returns cover patients treated in organisations in England.

3. Average (median) waiting times

The median is the mid-point of the waiting times distribution (i.e. the 50th percentile) and can be interpreted by saying that 50% of all patients have waited this amount of time.

It should be noted that medians are calculated from aggregate data, rather than patient level data, and therefore are only estimates of the position on average waits. 

 4. Interpretation of waiting times and activity data

Care should be taken when making month on month comparisons of these figures.  Measures of waiting time performance are subject to seasonality. For example, the presence of bank holidays, or the number of weekends, in a calendar month affect the number of working days. Similarly, adverse weather may result in emergency pressure and impacts upon the health service’s ability to preserve elective capacity. These factors can affect waiting times and should be considered when making comparisons across time.

5. Feedback welcomed

We welcome feedback on the content and presentation of statistics within this Statistical Press Notice and those published on the DH website. If anyone has any comments on this, or any other issues regarding these statistics, then please email

Additional Information

Full details of diagnostics data for individual organisations is available on the DH website.

Press enquiries contact:
Press Office
Department of Health
Telephone: 020 7210 5221

The Government Statistical Service (GSS) statistician responsible for producing these data is:

Mark Svenson
Knowledge and Intelligence
Department of Health
Room 4E63, Quarry House, Quarry Hill, Leeds LS2 7UE

Published 9 May 2012