Support our Nation today - please donate here

NHS waiting lists in Wales hit record high

23 Nov 2023 7 minute read
Staff on a NHS hospital ward. PA Images, Peter Byrne

Emily Price

NHS waiting lists in Wales have hit a record high with nearly 1 in 5 people now waiting for treatment.

The latest Welsh NHS statistics have revealed that in September there were 761,111 patient pathways.

This is up from 760,285 in August with 594,000 individual patients waiting for treatment.

For diagnostic services in September, patient waiting lists increased to just under 120,400 making it the highest on record.

Two-year waits remain at 26,439 despite the Welsh Government committing to eliminate these in March this year.

The NHS cancer waiting times for September show that 52.9% of patients started their first treatment within 62 days of being suspected of having cancer.

This is the second worst performance on record since the Suspected Cancer Pathway was introduced in June 2019.

The Welsh Government’s aims for 75% of patients to start treatment within 62 days of first suspecting cancer.

However, this target has never been met.

Some health boards across Wales saw just 46.1% of patients starting treatment within 62 days of cancer first being suspected whilst others saw 57.7% of patients within this time frame.


No Welsh health board has ever met the 75% target since July 2020.

In September 2023, the NHS diagnostic and therapy service waiting times show that around 93,700 people were waiting for one of eight key diagnostic tests in Wales.

Of these, 42.9% have been waiting more than eight weeks.

Endoscopy waiting lists had 66.2% (around 16,800) of people waiting more than eight weeks, while radiology waiting lists had 34.2% (around 23,300) waiting more than eight weeks.

Welsh Conservative Shadow Health Minister, Russell George MS warned people waiting on NHS are being left in pain.

He said: “Waits for treatment and diagnostic services are the very worst on record, cancer waits are the second worst on record.

“These shameful statistics from our Labour-run Welsh NHS are completely unacceptable. These are real people languishing on these lists, often in pain. Wales deserves better.

“It is abundantly clear that Labour’s plans to prioritise funding for blanket 20mph speed limits over resourcing our Welsh NHS and choosing to prioritise more politicians over more doctors and nurses is crippling our health service.

“Labour is the only government in the UK to have ever cut a health budget. Only the Welsh Conservatives will scrap Labour’s vanity projects, reverse Labour’s cuts, spend the full 20% uplift from the UK Conservative Government on our Welsh NHS and deliver a proper workforce plan.”

Cancer Research UK’s public affairs manager in Wales, Simon Scheeres, said: “It is unacceptable that almost half of the people in Wales with cancer aren’t being treated quickly enough.

“The Chief Scientific Adviser for Health in Wales recently published a report outlining the future challenges of our Welsh NHS. One of these challenges is cancer.

“As the report marks, if current trends continue, the number of cancer cases in Wales will rise from around 19,800 diagnosed each year in 2017-2019, to around 24,800 by 2040.

“It is essential that we address this challenge head on. We must do this to improve cancer services for patients now, and in the future.

“More investment must go to our cancer workforce. As, despite the tireless efforts of our NHS, there is simply not enough capacity to meet the demand for cancer services in Wales. This must change.”


Plaid Cymru’s Health and Social Care spokesperson, Mabon ap Gwynfor MS said: “We now have the highest figure on record of patients waiting to start their treatment with hundreds of thousands waiting more than 36 weeks.

“Even more concerning are the tens of thousands on a diagnostics waiting list, with over 51,000 waiting more than eight weeks. These are people living with the fear that they need urgent treatment but have to anxiously wait for longer than they should to get a diagnostics test.

“These are extremely concerning figures and tells us that the Labour Government have singularly failed to get a grip on the waiting lists crisis.

“We have a Government that has no sense of urgency and seems to be content with managing decline rather than arresting the situation and develop a clear plan to get to grips with the situation.

“What’s more the Health Minister is content to be hands off and blame the health boards ad the public for the crisis facing our health service.

“England managed to reduced waiting times twenty years ago through using various strategies but fundamental to the success was valuing the workforce and providing them with the right culture and working conditions. It is no surprise that we are seeing increased waiting lists at a time of workforce discontent.

“If we are to successfully tackle these waiting lists then the first thing the Government must do is listen to the workforce, show that they understand their grievances, and then show that they value them by implementing changes that will make contracts and working conditions fit for the twenty first century.”


In a statement the Welsh Government said that although the increase in the total waiting list this month is “very small”, it is “disappointing” to see them at their highest levels on record.

A spokesperson said: “The pressure on our NHS services has continued to grow as we enter the toughest time of the year. Despite the fact that waiting lists have grown overall, it is encouraging to see that the longest waits are continuing to fall.

“The majority of people waiting on an individual waiting list (patient pathway) are waiting less than 26 weeks.

“We are pleased to see that patients waiting longer than one year for their first outpatient appointment also decreased. This was despite there being more than 4,000 referrals for first outpatient appointments made per day on average in September.

“The number of people being informed they do not have cancer also increased, but it is concerning that so many are missing the target date for treatment. The Welsh Government is exerting significant pressure on health boards to improve performance.

“It is also positive that the number of people calling the NHS 111 Wales service continues to rise. October saw the highest numbers of callers on record having their call answered within 60 seconds. This is helping patient experience and supporting people to access the right treatment, at the right time, in the right place.

“Although the increase in the total waiting list this month is very small, it is disappointing to see them at their highest levels on record – that is due to the continued number of people joining the waiting lists, with the highest annual number of new referrals on record in the latest 12 months.

“Health boards are working hard to tackle the longest waits but the most urgent cases must always be seen first.

“Today, we have announced funding of up to £29.4m for a new Orthopaedic hub at Llandudno Hospital to help reduce orthopaedic waiting times. Orthopaedic treatment is where the longest lists are in the NHS.

“The new hub will transform elective orthopaedic services at Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board and provide benefits for patients, staff and the wider North Wales community, by delivering a planned 1,900 procedures a year.

“Our hard-working NHS staff continue to operate amid high and increasing levels of demand. October had the highest number of attendances at Emergency Departments for any October on record.

“October also saw the second highest proportion of immediately life threatening calls (red ambulance calls) reported on record, and the second highest average number of daily red calls.

“This year there are 119 more ambulance staff working to ease the pressure compared to last year.

“We expect health boards to improve ambulance patient handover performance to free up ambulance capacity as a priority, but often there is a hold up at the back of the hospital with people who have already been treated unable to leave because of the fragility of the community care services. The Welsh Government is working hand in glove with local councils to try and fix this issue.

“We continue to support health boards to achieve the new targets for reducing the longest waits set by the Health Minister, amid extreme budget pressures.”

Support our Nation today

For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.

Notify of
1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Sarah Good
Sarah Good
8 months ago

Yep. I’m on one of those waiting lists. Currently a 14 month wait for my specific treatment. Which is really frustrating. But the same treatment in England has a 5 year wait.

Our Supporters

All information provided to Nation.Cymru will be handled sensitively and within the boundaries of the Data Protection Act 2018.