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NHS waiting times drop for the first time since the Covid pandemic

22 Dec 2022 5 minute read
Ambulances Image Nation Cymru

The Welsh Government has been urged to take “radical action” to save the NHS despite the latest figures showing waiting list for planned treatments decreased for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

NHS data for October show there were 753,293 treatments waiting to be completed in Wales – a drop of 0.2% from September.

This is the first decrease since April 2020 but is still the second highest number recorded.

However, the statistics released today also confirm increased pressure on emergency services and record waiting times for cancer treatment.

The target of no patients waiting longer than a year for their first outpatient appointment by the end of 2022 is also set to be missed

As of the end of October, there were 95,000 patient pathways that were still waiting for their first appointment, after more than a year.

Last month the ambulance service recorded its joint worst performance for response times, as it dealt with the highest number and proportion of ‘red’/ immediately life-threatening calls on record in November.

However, performance improved against waiting times for an assessment by a doctor and for patients to be admitted, transferred or discharged.

‘Wake up’

Rhun ap Iorwerth MS, Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson for health and care has called for Welsh Government to “wake up” and take the “radical action” to address the “long-standing issues” in the NHS in Wales.

Mr ap Iorwerth says that this decline has happened “on Welsh Labour’s watch” and the Welsh Government is “not without power” to address the issues.

The latest figures arrive on a day that doctors in Wales are considering strike action for the first time in their history, and within a week of historic strike action from nurses and ambulance workers.

“Our NHS is at breaking point and something has to give. There have been long-standing problems with patient flow through hospitals, and with increased pressure on our emergency service and more and more patients being added to waiting lists, our hard-working staff have given everything they can,” Mr ap Iorwerth said.

“The strikes from nurses and ambulance workers are a last resort from dedicated staff who have patient safety at the heart of their actions. But something has to give, and Welsh Government should be doing everything in its power to ensure it’s not the workforce.

“The latest news that doctors may join nurses and ambulance workers on the picket line has to be a wake-up call for Welsh Government, and they must be prepared to take radical action if they are truly committed to facing up to the long-standing problems within our NHS. Let’s not forget that this decline in our NHS has happened on their watch.

“Staff and patients need to know why they should have any confidence in the Welsh Government’s ability to improve waiting times, support our workforce, and to provide the stability and sustainability that our health and care service so desperately needs.”

Improvement

In response to the figures, a Welsh Government spokesperson said: “October saw the first decrease in the number of patient pathways waiting to start treatment since April 2020. Although record levels of demand on the ambulance service were reported in November there was also some improvement in emergency department performance.

“More than 376,000 consultations+ were carried out in October in hospital alone and over 106,000 patient pathways were closed, an increase of 12.8% from the previous month.

“Progress continues to be made on the longest waits. Two year waits for treatment have fallen for the seventh month in a row and are down by 23% since the peak in March. The proportion of pathways waiting less than 26 weeks increased this month with the number waiting more than 36 weeks falling.

“The number of pathways waiting longer than one year for their first outpatient appointment dropped for the second month in a row. An all-time record 14,412 people were seen and told they don’t have cancer; this is 4% higher than the previous month. Whilst performance decreased slightly against the 62-day target, more people started their first definitive cancer treatment in October 2022 compared to September 2022.

“The proportion of pathways waiting longer than the target times for diagnostics and therapies fell by 4.9% and 4.1% respectively compared to the previous month.

“Our ambulance service and emergency department staff remain under increased pressure. November saw the highest number and proportion of ‘red’/ immediately life threatening calls on record and an increase in the total number of attendances across facilities similar to pre-pandemic levels.  However, performance improved against the four hour and twelve hour targets, and there was a reduction in the average wait for an assessment by a doctor.

“Whilst we acknowledge ambulance performance is not where we expect it to be, we are driving system improvements, including extending same-day emergency care services to open seven-days a week, improving management of 999 patients on the phone, and recruiting more staff. Without all this the pressure on the system would be even greater.”


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