Posted: Sun 10th Dec 2023

Health minister challenged over plans to address NHS backlogs in Wales

Wrexham.com for people living in or visiting the Wrexham area
This article is old - Published: Sunday, Dec 10th, 2023

Plans to ensure patients are “waiting well” have been described as an admission that long NHS backlogs are here to stay.

Eluned Morgan told the Senedd that the Welsh Government’s focus cannot solely be on increasing the capacity of health services to meet ever-increasing demand.

The health minister said Wales must also seek to address demand through preventative approaches and supporting people to take control of their own health.

Baroness Morgan told the chamber: “There’s a real opportunity especially to encourage them to do this while they wait for NHS treatment”.

Highlighting the Welsh Government’s “promote, prevent and prepare” strategy, she said everyone waiting for elective care will have a single point of contact by spring.

Baroness Morgan added that a digital self-assessment tool has been developed to provide tailored health advice and signpost to additional support.

The Welsh Government has claimed the “waiting well” policy will help prevent 6,000 last-minute cancellations of NHS treatments.

However, Plaid Cymru’s Mabon ap Gwynfor raised concerns that “waiting well” is simply a tacit admission that long waiting lists will be here for the foreseeable future.

‘Status quo’

The shadow minister pointed out that 19% of the Welsh population is on a waiting list.

He said: “Waiting well cannot mean simply managing the status quo. It must be one part of an overarching and integrated strategy for clearing the backlog.”

Mr Gwynfor also raised concerns about more patients seeking private treatment, creating a two-tier system of health care and entrenching class-based inequalities.

The Dwyfor Meirionnydd MS called for assurances that the approach to dealing with waiting lists is more than simply leaving it to the private sector.

Baroness Morgan said waiting well is not only about clearing the backlog: “It’s also about optimising the chance of that patient getting a better outcome.”

She added that the Welsh Government wants to improve facilities in A&E departments to give people a better experience.

“Ideally, you don’t want them to wait there at all,” she said.

“But I’m just accepting the fact that the chances are that we’re not going to be able to fix this immediately, so I do think it’s important for us to engage in this.”

The health minister told MSs that services are curtailed in how much they can commission from the private sector because they do not have the money.

‘Distraction’

Russell George, the Conservatives’ shadow minister, said many of the targets set out in the 2022 planned care recovery plan have been missed.

He broadly welcomed the proactive, tailored approach and single point of contact, but raised concerns about the capacity of the workforce.

His Conservative colleague Altaf Hussain was less flattering, describing plans for a single contact as a distraction.

The former consultant orthopaedic surgeon told the Senedd: “We already have a contact: the GP and the treating consultant in the hospital.

“It is that contact that we should be maintaining and patients should have access to.

“Otherwise this new introduction of a point of contact is going to fail and create more problems and red tape, and there’ll be no accountability and there will be more litigation.”

Feedback

Baroness Morgan highlighted positive feedback from users of the service which attempts to take the pressure off GPs and consultants.

She raised Hywel Dda health board’s waiting list support service as an example of good practice, saying a review found it increased patient satisfaction and reduced complaints.

The minister also pointed to the example set by Cardiff and Vale health board, which sent out digital “nudging” messages to 3,000 patients waiting for treatment during the pandemic.

Baroness Morgan said the health board’s “prepare well” service which concentrated on improving patients’ physical health through a supported exercise programme.

She told MSs: “This had additional benefits such as helping with confidence, reducing anxiety and improving motivation. An independent evaluation found a cost value of just under £3 for every £1 spent on the service.”

By Chris Haines, ICNN Senedd reporter



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