Wales' Health Minister has rejected a suggestion that the NHS is “harming patients” due to the severe levels of pressure on its services.
Eluned Morgan MS acknowledged that the speed at which patients were receiving treatment was being impacted but said she would “not accept for a moment” that the NHS was harming its patients.
ITV Cymru Wales has spoken to a number of NHS staff and health sector bodies and heard concerns over the sustainability of the health service in its present form.
Ms Morgan said: “I don’t think the NHS is harming patients, no.
“I think our ability to get to patients quickly, that is perhaps compromised by the pressures that we’re under at the moment but no, I would not accept for a moment that the NHS is harming patients.
“I think the situation is that maybe people have to wait a bit longer for care because of the pressures that have grown as a result of the pandemic and let’s be clear about that, that we’re seeing about 20% more people going to their GPs, we’ve got hugely long waiting lists because, of course, we had to be very careful about who was able to go into hospitals during the height of the pandemic.
“We’re trying to reign all that back at the same time as dealing with Covid, because that hasn’t finished yet.”
Speaking to ITV Cymru Wales for Wales This Week, looking at the challenges facing the NHS, Dr Pete Williams, a consultant in emergency medicine and paediatric medicine at Ysbyty Gwynedd in Bangor, said he felt the current pressures on services were causing harm to patients.
He said: “This is not sustainable. We, this department, other departments around the country and the wider NHS, are harming patients because they’re not getting timely care.
“When I can’t move patients out of the department because the hospital’s full, because there aren’t any community spaces then we’re holding ambulances outside which none of us want to do, but I’ve physically got nowhere to put these patients.
“I’ve even got patients already in the corridor here.
“When we can’t offload ambulances then those vehicles aren’t available to go to emergencies in the community.
Patient confidence in the health service also appears to have been impacted by the pandemic and current pressures.
Over half of those asked felt the NHS would run a worse service than before the pandemic, according to a poll conducted for ITV Cymru Wales.
Meanwhile almost a quarter of those asked felt the health service would not provide an adequate level of emergency help to patients in need.
ITV Cymru Wales spoke to one patient, Sue, in the emergency department of Ysbyty Gwynedd, who said - despite the best efforts of frontline NHS staff - she was concerned by the level of treatment offered.
'I don't know what else to do, I just feel really powerless'
Sue had been in the emergency department for the third time in a week after a number of transient ischemic attacks, or mini-strokes, that she felt were not being dealt with effectively.
She said: “I keep having them and I’m here today because I was having one this morning. But I’m not having anything done.
“I’ve been sat here for five hours, just waiting, feeling quite poorly.
“I don’t know what else to do, I just feel really powerless. It’s scary having seizures, it’s really, really scary.
“I just feel really vulnerable and unsafe with the NHS at the moment and I’m not blaming the staff, because they are doing their best, they’re all working hard but it’s a horrible situation to be in and I’m somebody who takes responsibility for my health.”
Bethan Bee, clinical site manager at Ysbyty Gwynedd, said she felt the current reality in the Welsh NHS could not continue for its staff, who were unable to provide adequate levels of care to patients.
“I don’t think this is sustainable,” she said.
“It is a challenge every day and I don’t know how long people can carry on with this really. Historically nurses do carry on, don’t they, and in the medical profession they do just carry on and do the best that they can for the patients, although it’s not what they want.”
Last week figures revealed that ambulance response times against the eight minute target were the lowest on record.
The percentage of red calls - those which are serious and/or immediately life-threatening - receiving a response within eight minutes was 50% in October, down by 2.3% the previous month.
Commenting on the day the figures were announced, the Welsh NHS Confederation said the services was under pressure “from all angles”.
Meanwhile, a senior doctor told ITV Cymru Wales he felt the NHS was now in a position of “rationing healthcare”.
The minister for Health and Social Services said she was confident the Welsh NHS would navigate a way through the current pressures on its services, adding that the Welsh Government was working to assist both the Health and Social Care sectors.
Ms Morgan said: "There is a short term issue here that we've got to address, which is the here and now and how do we get through this winter?
"There's a longer term issue, which is how do we address the backlog and people who are, frankly, suffering in pain and that’s the last thing I want to see as a health minister.
"We've got to stand by these people and get them through and seen as soon as we possibly can.
"And then there's the longer term issue, but we can start that now and that is how we all take more responsibility for our own health, how do we make sure we're fit, how do we make sure that we eat healthily, how do we make sure that we’re really trying to take responsibility ourselves for our own health?
"And it's really important that we don’t forget that there's a mental health issue that we need to address here as well, which we're very focused on at the same time.
"I'm absolutely confident that the amazing workers in the NHS that have managed to really keep it together right through the pandemic will continue to serve us, the people of Wales, in the way they have done over the past couple of years and I’m confident that we will get through this winter."
You can watch Wales This Week: Inside the NHS on ITV Cymru Wales on Monday 22 November at 8pm. The programme will also be available online after its transmission.