New Knees & Hips: Britain's Biggest Queue?

In tonight’s programme: New Knees & Hips: Britain’s Biggest Queue - Tonight, reporter Dr Zoe Williams explores a condition faced by around 1 in 10 of us: knee or hip pain.

But with over one million people estimated to be on the NHS orthopaedics waiting list - many of them for joint replacement operations - some could wait years for treatment. It’s the biggest elective waiting list across the whole NHS.

For this programme, Tonight and charity Versus Arthritis conducted a snapshot poll on its social media channels.

324 people replied, saying they were actively waiting for joint replacement. 62% of them had been waiting more than a year - while 1/3 had been waiting over two years.

In Wales, 9% of people on the Trauma and Orthopaedics waiting list have been waiting over two years for treatment.

Mary Cowern, head of charity Versus Arthritis Wales, tells the programme: “For knee and hip surgery procedures in Wales, the waiting times are shocking. We shouldn't have people suffering in agony, putting their lives on hold, waiting for such a long, long time - especially with elderly people. They need to be enjoying the last days of their lives.”

Mary herself waited 2 years 10 months for her hip replacement surgery. 

Meanwhile Paul Smith, also from South Wales, says he had his first referral for a right hip replacement 7 years ago. 

“They can't feel the pain. If they could feel the pain, they would sort it out,” he comments.

Fortunately, Paul had his hip replacement last week, and is recovering well. 

A Welsh Government spokesperson told Tonight that it invests £170m annually into its key priority of reducing waiting times, and waits for orthopaedics over 2 years in Wales were 50% less in September 2023 compared with the previous year. 

A UK government spokesperson said that cutting waiting lists is a top priority and...18 month waits are down more than 90% since September 2021. They have provided an additional £800 million for this winter - some of which will go towards tackling the longest waits, and are working to create 5,000 extra hospital beds.

Dr Zoe visits the team at the Wrightington Hospital, Lancashire to find out about the benefits of joint replacement surgery. Professor Peter Kay, consultant orthopaedic surgeon, explains how “on average, these operations last 25 to 30 years … the health economic advantage to society is enormous.” 


With waiting times increasing, we’ve also seen more people seeking private treatment. 

Last year, nearly 50,000 hip or knee replacements were carried out in private hospitals. That’s a jump of 70% since 2019. 

In our poll with Versus Arthritis, 37% of people surveyed said they would consider going private, although only 15% said they could afford to pay for surgery upfront.

Zoe Chivers, Versus Arthritis, comments: “When people are forced to pay for surgery. We do create a two tier health system and often the people who need that surgery the most are those people who can't necessarily afford it. And actually that really, really exacerbates health inequalities.”

 The programme also explores whether surgery is the only option for those in pain. Dr Zoe visits ESCAPE-Pain: a 6-week education and exercise programme run in around 300 locations nationwide, designed specifically for those with joint problems. 

At the class in south east London, Dr Zoe hears how some of the participants - who are in week three of their course - are already feeling the benefits.

Professor Mike Hurley - who developed the program said: Anecdotally we know that people have said I was on the waiting list, but now I've gone back to the surgeon and said, I'd like to delay it for a while, let’s see how it goes.”

Useful Links

Versus Arthritis -


The Robert Jones & Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital -

Arthritis Foodie -

Orthopaedic Research UK -

NHS - arthritis help and advice - 

Advice for seeking treatment abroad -