Hospital waiting times show the growing demand facing the NHS in Wales
The number of patients waiting longer than 36 weeks to start treatment in hospitals across Wales has increased by over 500%.
It is the first time that such figures have been released since all routine procedures and appointments were postponed in March.
The data, released on Thursday, shows a stark rise in waiting times and the growing demand facing the NHS in Wales.
Since March the number of patients waiting between 26 and 36 weeks to start treatment has increased from 54,301 to 116,807 in September.
Those waiting 36 weeks to start treatment has grown from 28,294 to 168,944 within the same six month timeframe.
A further 232,127 patients had on the waiting list for up to 26 weeks as of September.
In the Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board region the number of people waiting more than 36 weeks since January has increased from 12,379 to 38,639.
Overall 48,027 in north Wales are waiting up to 26 weeks and a further 25,027 between 26 and 36 weeks.
Speaking yesterday Dr Andrew Goodall, chief executive of NHS Wales warned that that there would be “further increases to these waiting times as we continue to respond to coronavirus during this public health emergency.”
Minister for Health and Social Services Vaughan Gething said the figures have shown an expected rise in waiting times for elective treatment.
He said: “Our NHS has gradually been providing more routine care. However, every aspect of healthcare has been affected by coronavirus.
“Our hospitals have had to transform the way they operate to keep staff and people safe and to prevent the spread of the virus. This has had a major impact on capacity, activity and waiting times.
“As expected, we have seen a significant rise in waiting times for elective treatment. Operating with new social distancing restrictions, strict infection control and other measures to keep people safe, mean the NHS is only able to carry out about half the number of procedures every day, compared to pre-pandemic levels.
“The Welsh Ambulance Service has reported its response times have been impacted by the additional time it takes for paramedics to put on the required level of PPE, as well as the need to deep clean vehicles after call outs.
“While in the early part of lockdown our Emergency Departments saw a fall in the usual footfall, demand has begun to return to normal levels at a time when they are now operating with reduced capacity due to infection control and physical distancing requirements.
“In anticipation of a challenging winter period, we have made an additional £30m funding available to support urgent and emergency care services and increase resilience over the remainder of 2020/21.
“All our health boards now have plans in place to operate under these new circumstances and to see patients in order of clinical priority.
“However just as in other UK nations it will take a long time to return to the position we were in before the pandemic.”
Dr David Bailey, chair BMA Welsh Council, said the figures “illustrate the significant impact that Covid-19 has had on the NHS in Wales, and on the lives of patients up and down the country.”
He called for “clear messaging” and communication to patients about where they are in the system to “offer a small amount of peace of mind.”
“We welcome Welsh Government’s acknowledgement that extra investment will be needed, as this will be key in driving these figures down, but we do need urgent clarity on what exactly will be available and how it will be spent,” said Dr Bailey.
“Doctors in Wales remain committed to tackling the backlog, but they must be resourced and protected in order to do their jobs.
“Improved patient and staff testing must become a clear priority, appropriate PPE must continue to be guaranteed, along with dedicated Covid-safe wards in hospitals, to ensure spread of the virus is minimised as much as possible.
“We must not forget the need to look after the workforce, many of whom have been working in high risk environments since March, their wellbeing is paramount, without them there is no service.”
However Andrew RT Davies MS, shadow health minister, said the pandemic has “only put a spotlight” on existing issues in the health service.
He said: “The people of Wales are still contracting these life-threatening conditions, and still dependent on the Health Minister putting in place a measures to clear the backlog, even though he said that it was ‘foolish’ to have a plan for backlogs before the pandemic is over.
“It’s not foolish, but sensible and will save lives, because it was only last week that leading cancer experts were warning that as many as 2,000 deaths could occur because of Covid-related delays.
“Welsh Conservatives are again urging the Health Minister to get a grip on this because troubling as these figures are, they are not just abstract numbers.”
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