Aug. 8 (UPI) -- Britain's national healthcare system said Thursday a record 4.4 million Britons are waiting for surgery -- a figure one medical leader called "unacceptable."
New statistics posted by the National Health Service also showed a 16 percent increase of patients who'd waited for more than 18 weeks for non-emergency operations, such as hip or knee replacements.
The NHS figures showed 233,000 Britons had waited for more than six months and 37,000 more than nine months.
Some have blamed NHS pension rules, saying they discourage experienced doctors from working more shifts because they incur larger tax bills. British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the system is unfair and proposed rule changes to create more flexibility for physicians.
"We're taking action today to change the NHS pension system so that doctors don't have to face a huge tax bill when they do overtime," he said. "It's good for the NHS and it's good for patients because it means that people will always be there to treat you."
The British Medical Association said a member survey showed 30 percent of consultants and 42 percent of general practitioners had cut back their hours because of the pension rules.
Derek Alderson, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, questions whether the proposed changes will be sufficient -- and said the number of patients on waiting lists is "utterly unacceptable."
"Although the government has made welcome moves this week to reduce waiting times, by directing more money to hospital infrastructure projects and trying to resolve the pensions issue that has been exacerbating waiting times, there is still a big job ahead," he said.
"Hospitals need a clear plan for reducing waiting lists over the next five years. Part of this plan has to be increasing hospital beds across the country -- at the very least, 3,000 are needed. We also need the staff and resources to run the wards these hospital beds will be on."