Health Minister: “It will take at least four years to return to pre pandemic levels of activity”
It will take four years to return to a point where waiting times were falling the Health Minister has said today.
The statement came during an “update on planned care recovery” following the launch of a new plan to tackle NHS waiting times in Wales.
The Health Minister Eluned Morgan said, “To do this we need to make some changes, we need to invest in equipment, new facilities and we need to keep on investing in our greatest assets our NHS staff so we can diagnose and treat people more quickly.
“The way the NHS deliver services has changed over the last year. Many of these changes will be here to stay and we need to reshape some of our expectations about the NHS.
“As part of our plan to transform planned care people will only need to go into hospital when they need care advice or services which cannot be delivered as close to their home as possible.
“We want 35% of new appointments and 50% of follow up appointments to be delivered virtually, locking in changes made during the pandemic. This will help to free up clinicians time so they can see and treat more people. We will make sure that those with the greatest need are seen first and will make sure that measures are in place to support those who are waiting. We will also help people to manage their conditions while they’re waiting and will offer people non surgical treatment alternatives where this is clinically appropriate.”
The Health Minister was challenged on staffing levels needed to deliver the promises, she replied, “We’re talking about a billion pounds over the course of this Senedd term, which is specifically to address the backlog.
“So there is money in addition to that going into the health service, we’ve already seen a 54% increase in the number of people working in the NHS in the past 20 years, around 8000 extra people since the start of the pandemic and we announced before Christmas that we’re investing a quarter of a billion pounds in training people.
“78% increase in the number of nurses that are being trained, for example, we’re seeing more GPs in Wales than we’ve seen before.
“So all of these things are I think heading in the right direction. The bigger challenge, I think is to make sure that we support the people who are already in the system, and to make sure that we can keep those in the system. They are frankly exhausted, and we need to make sure that they get the support that they need.”
The Health Minister said the private sector will be used to tackle the backlog, “We are already using the private sector to a very large extent and we won’t be afraid to use the private sector in terms of this plan either. Obviously, where possible, we want to try and invest in a system which will give us a more sustainable long term. approach. But we are aware that we need to relieve people of their pain as fast as possible. If that means using the private sector, then there won’t be any ideological problem with that from from our perspective, we just need to get through this backlog as fast as possible.”
It was pointed out that waiting list issues were nothing new, and were high before the pandemic started, and the question was put ‘why should people believe that this plan from Labour is going to work?’
The Minister replied, “Well, this is a different situation from the one we’ve had in the past. Of course, we’re in a unique circumstance here where we have had a pandemic that has clearly driven up the numbers who are waiting in the system beyond anything we’ve seen before.
“The good news is that already we’re biting into some of that backlog and so what we’ve seen in the most recent statistics is an increase of only 0.4% – clearly still going in the wrong direction – but I’m confident with this plan, that there will be that injection of funding that we’ve never seen like have before, which we hope will help to alleviate that situation.
“But, let’s remember that there are already 200,000 people every month being seen by the NHS, this is not a system that’s broken. It’s a system that is very much there still supporting people across the whole of Wales.”
Welsh Conservatives described the plans announce today as “unambitious”.
The party’s shadow minister for health, Russell George MS, said: “Twenty-three years of Labour mismanagement has seen the NHS breaking all the wrong records in Wales.
“Only last week we saw the worst A&E waits and longest treatment list in NHS Wales history. Much more needs to be done.
“We need to be assured that this plan is more than a just sticking plaster to cover deep rooted issues.
“This is a matter of life and death for people in Wales. It’s about time Labour ministers started treating it as such.”
Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson for health and care, Rhun ap Iorwerth MS, said it was important that targets are met.
He said: “What the NHS in Wales needs is a plan that looks at every aspect of the patient journey through the health and care sector.
“This has to start with increased focus on prevention, to reduce the number of people who are seeking health care in the first place, and must include plans to quickly support those patients who need care packages after hospital treatment, to free up beds in hospitals.
“It’s also not clear if government are taking any additional steps to address the severely depleted workforce across health and care.
“The fact that new targets are to be set is welcome, but we’ll have to assess the level of ambition and firmly hold the government to account to ensure targets are met.”