Report by ITV Cymru Wales Health Correspondent, Rob Osborne
A woman from Newport has said she lives in fear that she may lose her sight as NHS waiting times in Wales continue to rise.
Hillary Leicester was diagnosed with a cataract 10 years ago.
She has been waiting over a year to have the pressure in her eyes checked and worries that she may lose her sight if she doesn't see an optician soon.
She said: "I'm actually registered severely sight impaired but I do have high optic pressure and that needs checking on a regular basis. If it's not checked, it could mean that I could go blind, so it's really, really important that I have the procedure in place to be able to have my eyes checked.
"The pandemic did make life quite difficult. Normally I'm seen every six to nine months but it's been well over a year, a year and a quarter probably. I have now managed to get an appointment next week but I had to ring up to reassure myself it was actually happening.
"It's likely that if I didn't get the appointment then my vision could get worse and I could go totally blind if the pressures are not kept under control.
"I take the drops twice a day, I don't know if pressure levels are going up, I don't get any pain as some people do, so I have no indicator of whether things are getting worse.
Hillary is hoping that waiting times will improve and that measures will be put in place so that people in similar situations can get regular appointments.
She added: "If they can't provide a regular service then they should explain why. They should also try and get more staff and more equipment so that we can be checked regularly."
NHS waiting times
The latest NHS waiting times released on Thursday (February 17) showed that December was another record breaking month for patients waiting for treatment from referral.
The current NHS Wales target is that 95% of patients should be waiting less than 26 weeks from referral and no patients should be waiting more than 36 weeks.
The targets were missed once again in December with 683,331 patients waiting to start treatment - the highest number since comparable data was first collected in 2011.
Over 244,000 patients had been waiting more than 36 weeks from the date the referral letter was received by the hospital, representing 35.8% of all patients waiting to start treatment.
However, the number of people waiting in December 2021 was 0.2% higher than in the previous month - the slowest rate of increase since the start of the pandemic.
What about the ambulance service?
In January 2022 the total number of calls made to the ambulance service decreased on the previous month.
However, this was the eighth month in a row where on average there were more than 100 immediately life-threatening calls made each day to the ambulance service.
NHS Wales have a target of responding to 65% of red calls (immediately life-threatening) within 8 minutes. In January 2022, 52.5% of emergency responses to immediately life threatening calls arrived within 8 minutes, which is an increase on the previous month but remains below pre-pandemic levels.
A&E waiting times
The target for A&E waiting times were also missed in January 2022. Only 68.2% of patients spent less than 4 hours in the emergency department from arrival until admission, transfer or discharge. This is nearly a third lower than the target of 95%.
No patient should be waiting more than 12 hours in A&E, according to NHS Wales. In January 2022, there were almost 9,000 patients waiting 12 hours or more. This was 445 more than in the previous month and the second-highest on record since current reporting began in April 2012.
What are the politicians saying?
Health Minister Eluned Morgan has said it is too difficult to know when NHS waiting lists will stop rising in Wales.
Figures released today show another record-breaking rise in the number of Welsh people waiting to start treatment. The latest stats show 683,331 people on a waiting list, around 20% of the Welsh population.
When asked when the rise would stop, Eluned Morgan indicated it could be years.
She said: "That's a really difficult question and it's interesting to see the English plan has suggested they don't expect to see them stop rising for another two years or so.
"I'm not sure if we are going to be in that situation, I hope that we'll be able to do better than that but clearly one of the concerns is the number of people who haven't come forward yet because of their fear of COVID and so we don't quite know how many people are likely to come forward when we see fewer people in our communities with covid."
Plaid Cymru has noted disappointment that a plan to deal with the significant backlog is not expected until April.
Responding to the news, Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson for health and care, Rhun ap Iorwerth MS said: “The evidence tells us that there is less pressure on our NHS from coronavirus, and yet Welsh Government has been too slow to react to this good news. When faced with such a time-sensitive task as getting the NHS back on track, there is no time to waste.
“Undoubtedly the pandemic has had a massive impact on the ability of our NHS to diagnose and treat patients – the waiting times now are beyond shocking. But they weren’t good enough before the pandemic.
“Welsh Government should be ready with a recovery plan now, just as they should have had a plan in place before the pandemic. April is too long to wait for such an important matter.”
Commenting on the latest data, Welsh Conservative and Shadow Health Minister Russell George MS said the latest waiting times "only go to show how much work there is to be done" to get the NHS "into a fit state".
He said: “It is undeniable that emergency and elective care waits have reached these heights because of the pandemic – showing there were plenty of harmful health consequences to restricting healthcare services – but we cannot just go back to what it was like before Covid either.
“The treatment waiting list was already at a record high two years ago, the longest-ever pre-Covid A&E waits were in 2019, NHS beds have been cut year-on-year by a third of what they were when Labour entered power, and there are still thousands of staff vacancies to fill.
“Under Labour, business as usual would be failure as usual."
The Welsh Liberal Democrats have described the current situation as “abysmal” and called on more to be done to improve waiting times and make sure people get the care they need when they need it.
Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader and Senedd Member Jane Dodds said: “These figures truly are abysmal and make for harrowing reading. While the pandemic has resulted in extra pressure on the NHS in Wales, we cannot pretend it hasn’t been in crisis for many years now.
“We urgently need action to reduce waiting times and make sure patients are getting the care they need when they need it. This has to be at the very top of the Government’s priority list.
“It was disappointing to see that the issue of waiting times was given no mention in the cooperation agreement between Labour and Plaid Cymru. We cannot afford for the Administration to lose focus on this most important of issues.”