Welsh Government’s plan to cut NHS waiting lists for outpatient appointments falls short
The Welsh Government has failed to reach its own target of cutting waiting lists for outpatient appointments.
In April 2022 Health Minister Eluned Morgan announced an ambitious plan to ensure that no one waiting longer than a year for their first outpatient appointment by the end of 2022.
The target was introduced in a move to try and cut NHS waiting lists which had been growing since the coronavirus pandemic.
However figures released today show that the number of patient pathways waiting longer than one year for their first outpatient appointment was 75,000.
The planned care recovery plan target has not been met, despite a 27% fall from the peak reached in August 2022.
Responding to today’s figures a Welsh Government spokesperson said “we are disappointed that this ambitious target, which was not set in England, has not been met.”
The spokesperson said: “In April last year we set a target to eliminate the number of patient pathways waiting for longer than a year for their first outpatient appointment by the end of 2022. We knew that this would be challenging, but we wanted to see a real focussed effort on this by health boards.
“We will continue to press health boards to focus on the longest waiters, once the urgent cases have been dealt with.
“Despite the pressures, progress continues to be made across planned and emergency care in the NHS in Wales. Official statistics show nearly 320,000 consultations+ were carried out in December in hospitals alone and in one week in December primary care (GP surgeries etc) had contact with over 400,000 patients.
“We are pleased to see that because of the incredible efforts of our NHS staff the overall number of patient pathways fell for the third consecutive month, while in England these have been rising.
“We are also pleased that progress continues to be made on the longest waits and two year waits for treatment have fallen for the ninth month in a row, down by 36% since the peak in March. Whilst in many specialist areas the two year waits have been eliminated altogether, there are seven specialist areas where the numbers waiting are unacceptably long.
“We continue to press health boards, to focus on those areas where the lists are longest and to explain how they plan to match performance standards achieved elsewhere in the UK.”
Today’s NHS figures also show that emergency department waiting times in north Wales improved in January – with over 63% of attendees at the Wrexham Maelor Hospital seen within the four hour target.
4,433 people attended Wrexham’s A&E last month, which was down on the 5,081 in December 2022.
Today’s figures also show an improvement in ambulance response times, with 48.9% of immediately life-threatening calls (category red) attended within eight minutes.
This is an improvement on December 2022, which saw the trust recorded its worst response time on record – attending just 39.5% of category red calls within the target time.
But this remains below the 65% of all immediately life-threatening calls receiving a response within eight minutes.
31,000 emergency calls were made to the ambulance service during January, an average of 1,001 calls per day.
This a decrease of 315 (24%) calls on average per day than the previous month, and 189 (15.9%) fewer calls on average per day than the same month last year. The total number of calls in January was the lowest since comparable records began.
Today’s figures come with a caveat from the Welsh Government, which has acknowledged that January’s industrial action may have impacted the statistics.
Ambulance staff and nurses both staged strikes last month as part of their ongoing calls for a fair pay deal and improved working conditions.
A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We are particularly relieved to see an improvement in the emergency care access times in January however the position remains volatile, particularly in light of ongoing industrial action and other concurrent risks in the system.
“Thankfully January saw lower levels of demand on ambulance services which, alongside targeted actions taken to increase capacity including the provision of almost 600 community beds, enabled an improvement in response times for Red and Amber.
“Performance also improved against both the four and twelve hour emergency department waiting time targets, and the average time spent in emergency departments decreased to two hours and thirty five minutes, the best since April 2021.
“Whilst emergency care performance has improved over the last month, it is not where we expect it to be, we are still seeing far too many people experiencing delays across the system.
“We continue to drive system improvements, including extending same-day emergency care services to open seven-days a week, improving management of 999 patients on the phone, and implementing operational guidance to support hospital flow.”
However Plaid Cymru have today described the Welsh Government as “utterly failing to manage the health service.”
The party’s spokesperson for health and care, Rhun ap Iorwerth MS said: “That our NHS is in crisis is clear from the long waiting times, the increasing number of vacancies and seeing just how many of the remaining staff have taken to picket lines.
“With the latest waiting time figures released today, it demonstrates that the Welsh Government is utterly failing to manage the health service, even against their own revised targets, and even despite repeated assertions from the Health Minister that the targets were achievable.
“When will the Health Minister admit that doing the same thing and ‘hoping’ for different results, does not result in an improved outcome for patients?
“Our NHS drastically needs new and innovative thinking to change the current trajectory that it’s on, and it’s clear that Labour Welsh Government is out of ideas.”
Spotted something? Got a story? Send a Facebook Message | A direct message on Twitter | Email: News@Deeside.com