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Surgeons call for the next Prime Minister to address lengthening waiting times, starting by fixing ‘ludicrous’ pension situation

11 Jul 2019

The Royal College of Surgeons of England (RCS) has today called for the two candidates in the running to be the next Prime Minister of the UK, to act fast to stem rising NHS waiting times.  The call comes as NHS performance data is published showing that 4.39 million patients were waiting for hospital treatment, and a record 245,079 were waiting more than half a year (26 weeks). 

Today’s data, which relates to May 2019, also reveals that only 86.9% of patients waiting to start planned, consultant-led hospital treatment were seen within 18 weeks. The legal target is 92%. Furthermore, there were 35,747 patients waiting more than nine months (39 weeks) to start treatment in May 2019, though this number did improve very slightly when compared to April 2019, when there were 35,855 patients waiting. 

Professor Derek Alderson, President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, has called on both candidates - Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson - to commit to fixing the ‘ludicrous’ pension situation in their first month in office, as the first step to getting waiting times down.  The RCS is urging both men to make a commitment today, as record-breaking waiting times are published.   

Professor Alderson asks that whoever is the next Prime Minister, works with the Treasury in their first days in office to end the damaging doctors’ pensions’ dispute. This follows reports from across the country that senior doctors are declining to work extra shifts on waiting time initiatives, fearing they will receive an unexpected and large tax bill if they do. Recent changes to pension rules mean the result of working too much, could be an unpredictable, crippling tax bill, to the tune of tens of thousands of pounds.    

Professor Alderson said: “Surgeons up and down the country have raised concerns that waiting times for planned operations continue to grow. It is ludicrous that senior doctors who volunteer to do additional shifts on top of their regular jobs to help reduce NHS waiting lists, run the risk of receiving a crippling and unpredictable tax bill. 

“We urge both candidates hoping to become our next Prime Minister, to commit to helping us clear the backlog of patients stuck on waiting lists.  The first step is to resolve the pensions’ debacle. We should not penalise staff for working extra time to operate on patients, who would otherwise be left in pain stuck on waiting lists.

“It’s unacceptable that a record number of people are waiting more than six months for their operation. 

“The spring and summer months are traditionally when the NHS is able to reduce the backlog of patients waiting for operations, so it is imperative we sort this out quickly, before winter arrives and hospital admissions increase again.”

Today’s figures show a continued  improvement in the number of patients waiting over a year (52 weeks) to start planned treatment as NHS England has focused efforts on bringing the “longest waits” down. NHS planning guidance stated that, nationally, the number of patients waiting more than 52 weeks for treatment should be halved by March 2019, when compared to March 2018. Today’s data shows that there were 1,032 patients waiting more than 52 weeks in May 2019, compared to 3,100 in May 2018.


Notes to editors

1. Full data is available here: 

2. The Royal College of Surgeons of England is a professional membership organisation and registered charity, which exists to advance surgical standards and improve patient care.

3. For more information, please contact the Press Office: Telephone: 020 7869 6047/6052; Email:; Out of hours media enquiries: 07966 486832. 


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