HCSA statement: NHS waiting lists heading for 5 million amid unresolved pensions crisis

HCSA – the Hospital Doctors’ Union has urged the government to act in weeks not months to resolve the growing pensions crisis after its analysis of NHS statistics for June revealed:

  • New figures for June show that the number of patients waiting more than 6 weeks for diagnostic test results has increased by 38.3% (from 29,037 to 40,167) since the same month last year and 200% (from 13,394 to 40,167) since June 2016.
  • The number of patients waiting more than 13 weeks has increased by 315.7% (from 1,374 to 5,712) in the last four years.
  • The number of patients waiting for treatment has surged from 3.63 million in June 2016 to 4.4 million in June 2019, an increase of 22%.
  • The proportion of patients waiting longer than 18 weeks has surged from 8.5% to 13.7% in the last 4 years. An additional 293,928 patients had to wait more than 18 weeks to be treated.
  • The target for 85% of patients to wait no longer than two months from a GP Urgent Referral to a First Treatment for Cancer has now not been met for 42 months. June’s figure of 76.7% is the lowest ever recorded during the summer months.
  • 48.1% more patients waited longer than two months for treatment than in June 2016.


Today’s figures reflect reports from hospital doctors across the country of the impact of the pensions crisis on diagnostic and elective care as a result of staffing shortages, which had previously been covered by doctors working additional hours to bridge gaps.

Thousands of hospital doctors have or are in the process of reducing the hours they work.

  • When asked in a HCSA survey, “has your approach towards extra hours (eg Waiting List Initiatives) changed as a result of pensions issues?” just 14.0% replied ‘no.’
  • 50.5% stated that they have stopped doing overtime and a further 25.7% stated that they have reduced their level of overtime.’
  • When asked whether they had reduced their normal working hours as a result of pensions concerns, 38.5% of doctors replied ‘yes.’ Of those who requested to reduce their hours, 53.5% said that their request had been accepted by their employer and a further 30.6% replied ‘other,’ with many stating that they are still awaiting a response.

Commenting on today’s statistics, HCSA President Dr Claudia Paoloni said:

“What we have seen today is undoubtedly the impact of the pension tax crisis filtering through into patient care. It is tragic that the government has known about this growing crisis in the NHS for months, yet it has sat on its hands.

“It is important to point out that the performance levels that we are witnessing during the summer months are significantly worse than what we are used to in the winter. This has traditionally been a time when the NHS was able to catch up.

“The pension flexibilities announced this week will not head off the sea change in behaviour by hospital doctors driven by a tax system so punitive that they are effectively charged for plugging staff gaps and working extra hours to deliver patient care. Understandably they are cutting back on this work rather than pass the income thresholds put in place by the Treasury.

“Without tax reform, we fear that waiting lists will hit 5 million by next year. We need to see action in weeks not months – that means a firm commitment to tax change at the next Budget.

“Without an urgent solution to the pensions crisis, the NHS is facing its worst winter on record.”