Wales NHS: Waiting times highest on record after continued increase since May 2020

Report from ITV Wales' Political Correspondent, Owain Phillips

Hospital waiting times for non-emergency treatments in Wales have reached record highs, with figures increasing since May 2020.

Data from NHS Wales has shown that for October, almost 680,000 people were waiting for scheduled treatment.

By the end of the month, 45% of those had been waiting more than 26 weeks for medical care compared with the same period in 2019, before the pandemic.

NHS Wales' current target that 95% of people should not wait more than 26 weeks for treatment is way off. As of October, 35.6% of people have been waiting more than 36 weeks for treatment, since their referral.

Meanwhile, ambulance response times against the eight minute target, did improve for the first time in November since February this year. However, during the period, there were fewer calls made to the service, averaging at around 1,285 calls a day.

Despite fewer people calling for an ambulance, one in ten were deemed as life threatening, the highest on record.

Figures have also shown that less people went to A&E during the period. However the average time spent in emergency departments remained high at just under three hours. 11% of people were found to have spent more than 12 hours in A&E.

In terms of people starting cancer treatment, the wait increased against the 62-day target with 1,571 starting treatment in October compared with 1,600 in September.

The Welsh Government has admitted that the numbers for overall waiting time are likely to carry on rising, but the Health Minister says there are some positives to take from the figures.

A Welsh Government spokesperson also said: "Our NHS is facing its toughest winter ever and our hardworking staff continue to show unwavering commitment to delivering high-quality care to hundreds of thousands of patients each month.

"We have committed £1 billion this Senedd term to helping the NHS recover from the pandemic and to treat patients as quickly as possible.

"This week we have also committed funding to deliver the Real Living Wage for social workers, who are critical to helping people out of hospital and freeing up bed space.

"However increasing challenges from Covid pressures mean waiting times have and will continue to rise," they added.

"Our immediate focus is now on ensuring we deal with this next difficult phase of the pandemic and that patients can receive urgent care when they need it."

"We are doing all we can to support our emergency and urgent services and we would urge everyone to Help US, Help You this winter by considering how they access care.

"Your local pharmacy and the 111 online service can provide advice for minor illnesses and ailments."

Despite less people calling for an ambulance in October, the service had one in ten life-threatening calls, which is the highest on record.

The Welsh Conservative shadow health minister Russell George MS said: "Although coronavirus and the pent-up demand from previous lockdowns is obviously a huge factor in today's damning statistics, there has to come a point when things get better.

"However, Labour's record over two decades is one where things have gotten perpetually worse: doubling the waiting list in the year before Covid struck, experiencing its worst-ever A&E waits the year before the pandemic, and removing conditions like strokes from the red-call ambulance criteria.

"Moving forward, we need to relieve pressures on A&E in three steps: encouraging use of other services like minor injury units and community pharmacists, rolling out regional surgical hubs to deal with the treatment backlog, and making it far easier to access GP services.

"It is clear that Labour has lost its grip on the NHS. But we all must also have a serious national conversation on how we learn to live with this virus and the increasing demands we, as a nation, put on our national health service."

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