Posted: Thu 20th Jan 2022

Waiting lists for non-urgent treatment in Wales hit record levels for people living in or visiting the Wrexham area
This article is old - Published: Thursday, Jan 20th, 2022

New NHS data released today shows the “extreme levels of demand” on the health service in Wales.

The numbers on waiting lists for non-urgent hospital treatment in Wales once again hit record levels last month.

But the Welsh NHS Confederation, which speaks for the whole healthcare system in Wales has said, “we must be realistic about how quickly services will be able to bounce back” from the impact of Covid.

Latest Welsh NHS data for November showed the highest ever number of patients waiting for treatment with 682,279 on patient pathways – over 14,000 more than September – leaving 1-in-5 Welsh people on the waiting list.

Median waiting times for that same month in Wales are nearly double that of England (22.3 weeks compared to 11.5), while 1-in-4 Welsh patients are waiting over a year for treatment, compared to only 1-in-19 in England.

Figures show that a third (33.5%) of patients had to wait over the four hour target to be seen in A&E last month

Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board, which covers North Wales, was the worst performing in the nation against the four-hour A&E target, seeing only 61% in four hours.

Wrexham Maelor Hospital saw fewer than half its patients (43.4%) in four hours, making it the worst performing in Wales.

62.1% of patients were seen within eight hours at the local emergency department and 75.6% in 12 hours.

Ambulance performance in December, only 51.1% 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 17 months.

Ambulance performance data for December shows that 51.1% 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 17 months.

Darren Hughes, director of the Welsh NHS Confederation, said: “The statistics show the extreme levels of demand on the NHS and the impact Covid is having on our ability to treat those in need.”

“December saw the seventh consecutive month where over 100 immediately life-threatening calls were made to the ambulance service each day.”

“Although these figures paint a very serious picture, including the considerable number of patients waiting to start scheduled care, there are small positives to be seen – for example, the number of patients completing their treatment was the highest since the start of the pandemic.

“However, it’s important to remember this data reflects the situation before the Omicron variant took hold and staff sickness absences rocketed across the NHS and social care.”

“We must therefore be realistic about what subsequent reports will show and how quickly services will be able to bounce back now Covid-related admissions are showing tentative signs of declining.”

“While NHS leaders are doing everything they can, the elective care waiting list continues to grow and we need to be honest with the public that this can’t be cleared overnight.”

“We also need to be mindful of what these figures don’t show. Primary, community and social care services play a vital role in keeping people well and out of hospital and they are feeling the pressure caused by Omicron.”

“They too are experiencing high levels of staff absences and more patients needing care, as well as helping drive the booster programme.”

“Behind these statistics are both patients and staff.”

“More is being done to care for those on waiting lists and exhausted staff are doing everything they can to treat as many people as quickly and safely as possible. We can’t thank them enough.”

Dr David Bailey, Chair BMA Welsh Council, said today’s statistics show that “Omicron continues to have a huge impact on the Welsh NHS, with extreme pressure felt across the system.”

“The average time spent in emergency departments in December was the second longest on record and saw the seventh consecutive month, where over 100 immediately life-threatening calls were made to the ambulance service each day. Continuing demand and decreased staffing levels have put considerable pressure on our healthcare workers and the NHS’s ability to deliver care.

“BMA Cymru’s most recent survey showed that 84% of respondents said they were extremely or very concerned about the NHS’s ability to deliver urgent and acute care to non-covid patients, whilst 66% said clinical colleagues had recently taken sick leave or isolated due to Omicron with significant or moderate impact on patient care.

“Healthcare workers are exhausted, and the task ahead in tackling the backlog in the system is monumental.

“The figures show there is some light in the Omicron tunnel. Covid-related admissions are falling and the number of patients completing their treatment was the highest since the start of the pandemic. We must do all we can to ensure covid rates continue to fall – wearing masks, distancing and importantly, getting vaccinated.

“Welsh Government must do all it can to keep the service running – and must reconsider its position on PPE for those on the frontline. We must ensure healthcare workers are fully protected and issued with FFP2 grade masks as a minimum standard and FFP3 for those treating Covid. Staff must be given appropriate protection so they can deliver the care our patients need”.

The Welsh Conservatives said today’s figures show that there is no letting up on the pressure bearing down on the NHS.

Shadow Health Minister Russell George MS said: “We have seen for months now overwhelmed A&E departments without the resources to deal with the influx of patient, with further consequences for ambulances reaching new patients as they cannot handover old ones to hospitals, leading to the worst A&E waits in Britain.

“While more can be done to encourage the use of community pharmacies and minor injury units, it cannot be denied that problem in accessing to GPs and previous lockdowns are still taking a toll.

“Of course, decades of NHS bed cuts and mismanagement by a Labour Government in Cardiff Bay have only exacerbated things but a reversal in this trend could be in sight if they recognise the need to live with coronavirus.”

The Welsh Government has issued a statement on the latest NHS Wales performance data.

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Our NHS is currently dealing with a hugely difficult winter, whilst facing the gruelling challenges of the omicron variant, severe winter pressures and staff absences caused by the pandemic.

“The data shows how progress was beginning to be made in planned care in November, before the impacts of the omicron wave were truly felt and exerted considerable winter pressures on the health service. We anticipate next month’s data, which will include December, will reflect this.

“Healthcare workers should be commended for their determination to maintain high quality care to hundreds of thousands of patients each month, as well as supporting record breaking levels of boosters during the latest phase of our Covid-19 programme over the last two months.

“Despite ongoing pressures to deliver planned care and some health boards having to review this, activity levels and diagnoses of cancer both increased in the latest data. The number of patients newly diagnosed with cancer who started their first definitive treatment increased to the highest level since comparable data was first collected in June 2019. Furthermore, the number of patients informed they did not have cancer increased on the previous month.

“Although the number of people waiting to start treatment has risen to more than 682,000 and continues to rise, the 0.4% increase in November is the smallest increase in the total numbers waiting since the start of the pandemic.

“November saw more than 78,000 patient pathways closed, the highest number in nearly two years.

“Progress is also being made in diagnostics. Although the number of people waiting for diagnostic tests remains higher than before the pandemic started and increased slightly in November 2021, the number waiting longer than the target time has decreased. It comes after significant investment in diagnostic equipment was announce last year, including more than £51m to replace ageing diagnostic equipment, £25m to replace imaging equipment and £25m in four new PET CT scanners

“We are doing all we can to support our urgent and emergency care services and we would urge everyone to Help Us, Help You this winter by considering how and when they access care.

“The ‘My Winter Health Plan’ scheme will celebrate its fifth anniversary later this year, and offers an easy way for people with long-term physical or mental health conditions to share information with visiting health professionals so they get the right care for their personal circumstances. This can often prevent an avoidable trip to hospital.

“We will distribute an additional 20,000 plans this winter, which will be available from community pharmacies across Wales and downloadable from the NHS 111 Wales website.

“Your local pharmacy and the 111 online service can provide advice for minor illnesses and ailments.”

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