Posted: Wed 27th Apr 2022

Questions over “deeply concerning” target to cut NHS waiting times by 2025

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Wednesday, Apr 27th, 2022

The Welsh Government has been challenged over “deeply concerning” targets to cut NHS waiting times by 2025.

Yesterday a new plan aiming to tackle the backlog and pressure on the health system caused by the pandemic was unveiled.

It includes an extra £60m – £15m a year – for health boards and an aim to deliver more appointments and follow-up consultations virtually.

A series of targets for health boards are set out in the plan, including waiting times and waiting lists for planned care – routine referrals and non-emergency care – have been hugely affected by the pandemic across the UK.

Speaking at a press conference yesterday Health Minister Eluned Morgan warned that it could take up to four years for the NHS in Wales to return to pre-pandemic activity.

It comes as one in five people in Wales were waiting to start some form of hospital treatment as of March 2022.

Pressure on emergency departments has continued to increase with last month seeing the worst performance on record against the four hour waiting time target.

In the Senedd yesterday the health minister faced challenge over the plan from opposition parties, who claimed that long waiting times and delays were present in the health service before the pandemic.

Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Rhun ap Iorwerth, said that whilst parts of the plan are to be welcomed, the pandemic revealed how “unsustainable” NHS Wales was before March 2020.

He also questioned why the plan didn’t include further funding or support for the care system, stating “that is where the problem is at”.

Rhun ap Iorwerth said: “One chief executive of a health board told me during the pandemic, when the minister was making some funding available to the health service, that he would prefer to see the money going to care services because that’s where the problem is.

“We do have to think about the process of recovery post pandemic as a challenge for health and care services.”

Ms Morgan said: “As you know, major funding has gone into the care service. There will be a need for more, certainly, but as you are aware, for the first time we are paying the real living wage to those people who work in this sector.

“And that’s the greatest challenge, I believe, in terms of care, namely to pay people a fair wage, because it’s in that way that we will attract more people into the system.

“But we are working with Plaid Cymru to come up with a programme on how we will go about looking at care in the longer term.”

Welsh Conservative spokesperson Russell George MS questioned how the Welsh Government will ensure that “health boards are effectively communicating with the hundreds and thousands of those waiting for support on waiting lists.”

He argued that the target that no waits more than a year for treatment by 2025 was “deeply concerning”.

Russell George MS said: “That is, of course, going to be of little comfort to those who are waiting, often in pain and discomfort. We’re in 2022 now, and they look and see the year 2025—that’s going to be difficult for them to accept.

“I’m also concerned that the target of 80 per cent for cancer diagnosis and treatment within 62 days by 2026 is just not ambitious enough.

“There are already people, of course, as it stands now, that are turning to private care.

“How and when, Minister, will you ensure that Wales’s health boards are effectively communicating with the hundreds and thousands of those waiting for support on waiting lists—those whose, perhaps, physical and mental health is deteriorating in that time as well?

“How are you going to ensure that health boards are communicating effectively with these people who are waiting for information? Because they’re being told they have to wait several years before they are treated. How will these targets be monitored?

“Will there be an annual report? I know, Minister, that you are going to be holding your officials to account on many of these targets that you’ve brought forward; how are we in this Senedd going to hold you to account?

“How can we do that? Are you going to have an annual report? Tell us a little bit more about how we can monitor progress.

“Being fair, Minister, there are some very positive, high ambitions within your plan. I don’t doubt that for a moment. There are some challenging targets that you have put in your plan, in some aspects.

“But, on first reading, for me, I would like some reassurance that this plan is more than just a sticking plaster. It doesn’t address some of the long-term outstanding problems that we’ve faced within the Welsh NHS.

“I’m sure you would agree that we want to build back better, don’t we, in Wales, after the pandemic. We don’t want to just get back to where we were before the pandemic started, we want to be in a better position.

“So, how is your plan going to do that? Just give us some reassurance that it’s not just a sticking plaster on current problems.”

The health minister said 2025 was an interim target and that the Welsh Government “should eliminate the number waiting for longer than two years in most specialities by March 2023.”

Addressing concerns about communication, the minister added: “You’ll know that there has been a very active communication strategy already, particularly with those who are waiting the longest.

“Your committee has written a very interesting report, and you’ll know from that that the Living Well programme gives advice to people in terms of how they can live well while they’re waiting for their operations. Obviously we’ll be interested to see if and when other health boards will pick up on that.

“I will be requiring monthly briefings from my team, but I’m sure that they will be monitoring in real time what’s been going on.

“If there are facilities that are not being used—in particular 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. full-time, all of the time—I’ll want to know why, and I’m sure you’ll be interested to know why as well.

“There is a target you can hold me to at the end of this year, in fact, as well, where we’re saying that people should have their first appointment by the end of this year.

“We know that many—around 50 per cent, if not more—are waiting for that first initial appointment. So, hopefully, that will help us out.”

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