Labour health minister needs to move up a gear to tackle record-long NHS waiting lists, while A&E and amber-call ambulance waits worsen too.
Latest Welsh NHS data for January showed the highest ever number of patients waiting for treatment with 688,836 on patient pathways – over 5,000 more than the previous month – leaving 1-in-5 Welsh people on the waiting list.
The number of people waiting over two years increased has jumped nearly 30,000 in just four months to 56,500. This more than double the figure for the whole of England (where it is 23,778). The figures are likely get worse due to the postponement of elective surgery across several health boards as resources shifted to booster jabs.
Median waiting times for that same month in Wales are nearly double that of England (23.6 weeks compared to 13), while 1-in-4 Welsh patients are waiting over a year for treatment, compared to only 1-in-19 in England.
Additional figures showed a third (33.4%) of patients had to wait over the four hour target to be seen in A&E last month. This is the third worst month for the Welsh NHS on record. In England and Scotland, the equivalent figures were 26.7% and 29.5%, respectively. The target to get 95% admittances seen in four hours has never been met in its 12-year existence.
Statistics also revealed that:
- Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board, which covers North Wales, was the worst performing area in the nation against the four-hour A&E target, seeing only 59.5% in four hours;
- Nearly 60% (58.2%) of Wrexham Maelor Hospital’s emergency patients had to wait over four hours, making it the worst performing site in Wales;
- 9,150 patients waited over 12 hours in Welsh hospitals, nearly 600 more than in December; and
- Those aged over 85 spent an average of eight hours and 16 minutes to be seen in A&E – the longest since data was first recorded for this age group for the second month in a row.
When it came to ambulance performance in February, only 55% of responses to immediately life-threatening calls arrived within eight minutes. The target of 65% of red-calls reaching their patient within eight minutes has not been reached in over 18 months. Only 22.6% of amber call patients – which include strokes – were reached within 30 minutes.
The slowest ambulances were in the Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board area with only 46.9% arriving within the eight-minute target of a red-call and 15% coming to the scene within half an hour of an amber case.
The news comes the day after ITV reported that Nick Bennett, the Public Service Ombudsman, said NHS waiting times in Wales are causing a “a public health crisis” that will mean “many people will be in pain and suffering over the next few years”.
Commenting, Welsh Conservative and Shadow Health Minister Russell George MS said:
“These sky-high numbers are devastating but not shocking because, sadly, they are becoming too common – but that cannot mean that we just accept that this is what Wales gets when it deserves so much better.
“We know that the pandemic has had a huge effect on waiting lists – not that they were great then with as they doubled in the year before Covid struck – but the excuse will eventually wear thin and become unjustifiable.
“This is all the more acute now as being stuck on a waiting list can prevent someone working or delay their return to their job, when earning a wage is all the more important when the cost of living is on the increase.
“The Health Minister keeps saying the health boards will report back with their plans to reduce these waiting lists, but Baroness Morgan should be leading them to a solution, not sitting back like a passive observer.
“These crippling waiting lists that are breaking all the wrong records show that under Labour, business as usual, is failure as usual.”