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Health board makes progress towards meeting key cancer targets

02 Apr 2024 3 minute read
Hospital ward. Photo Jeff Moore/PA Wire

Richard Youle, local democracy reporter

A health board which consistently misses cancer treatment target times has significantly reduced the backlog of patients who are waiting longer than they should be.

Swansea Bay University Health Board has 194 cancer patients waiting 63 days or more for treatment compared to 302 three months ago.

Speaking at a health board meeting, Darren Griffiths, executive director of finance and performance, said this was “positive news” considering the backlog was at one stage 600 patients.

Mr Griffiths said reducing the backlog further would enable more patients to be treated within 62 days. In January the health board treated 48% of cancer patients within the 62-day time frame against a Wales-wide target of 75%. The number has fluctuated between 43% and 57% over the past year, according to a report setting out key Welsh Government priorities for Swansea Bay health chiefs.

Targeted intervention

Cancer care is one of the reasons that the Welsh Government has raised its monitoring of the health board from “enhanced monitoring” to a higher level called “targeted intervention”.

Another reason for the escalation was performance in urgent care and planned care. Ministers expect 95% of patients arriving at accident and emergency to be treated or referred for treatment within four hours. Swansea Bay University Health Board’s figures range between the mid sixties to the mid to high seventies from month to month. Mr Griffiths said he anticipated a 74% figure for March 2024.

Meanwhile, the number of patients waiting more than 12 hours in accident and emergency has risen, said Mr Griffiths, from 990 in December to around 1,200 in March.

Another ministerial priority is hours lost to due to ambulance handover delays. This is when paramedics are unable to offload patients because of blockages within a hospital. Around 3,600 to 3,700 hours were lost in Swansea Bay in this way last month, although the figure has exceeded 4,500 previously. Executive staff have visited Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, where handover performance is much better, to learn from it.

Planned care

Another metric is the number of patients waiting more than 104 weeks for planned care. Numbers soared throughout Wales and the UK during Covid. In Swansea Bay, which comprises Swansea and Neath Port Talbot, there were just over 8,000 people waiting more than 104 weeks for planned care in December 2022. The number has steadily fallen, and Mr Griffiths said he was confident that a stated figure of 1,842 could be confirmed for the end of March this year.

Meanwhile, waits of over 52 weeks for outpatient appointments have been eradicated and sustained for the past four months,

There has also been a steep drop in the number of people waiting more than eight weeks for a diagnostic endoscopy. Although the figure is currently just over 3,000 patients, it has come down by 31% in the last two to three months – a fall Mr Griffiths described as “incredibly impressive”.

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