Record-high waiting lists in Wales 'keep me up at night' - Health Minister on latest NHS figures

Health Minister, Eluned Morgan says she knows people are waiting in agony for treatment on the Welsh NHS, as latest figures reveal another record-breaking month for waiting lists.

688,836 patients in January were waiting to start treatment, the highest since comparable data was first collecting in 2011.

"It keeps me awake at night. I do worry and I am very aware that people are suffering", she said.

"We are trying to prioritise people in terms of urgent cases and that's being done on a clinical basis. So that's not a political decision.

"It is very, very difficult. Particularly when we've got these restrictions in our hospitals in terms of what we're able to get on with, when we've still got 1,000 people who've got Covid in our hospitals.

"So it's tough but we're absolutely determined to address this issue."

The number of people waiting for treatment has risen each month since April 2020. However, the increase from December 2021 to January 2022 has been the second smallest monthly increase since the start of the pandemic.

The pressures on the NHS has not been helped by the number of staff off sick with Covid. The Omicron wave in January saw the number of NHS Wales staff off work, ill at the highest levels since April 2020.

Welsh Government have applauded the 'heroic efforts' of staff in tackling the mounting lists despite staff sickness.

The Omicron wave has seen the highest number staff in the NHS unable to work in January since April 2020. Credit: PA Images

NHS waiting times

The target that 95% of people should not wait more than 26 weeks for treatment was missed once again in January.

Around 52% waited less than 26 weeks for treatment, whilst approximately 36% waited more than 36 weeks for treatment.

That equates to more than 250,000 people in January who had been on a waiting list for more than 8 months - the highest on record.

A&E waiting times

The target for A&E waiting times were also missed. The figures from February 2022 show that 66.6% of patients spent less than 4 hours in the emergency department from arrival until admission, transfer or discharge.

This is down from 68.2% in January 2020 and below the target of 95%.

The average time spent in emergency departments in February 2022 increased on the previous month to 3 hours.

No patient should be waiting more than 12 hours in A&E, according to NHS Wales but the figures from February 2022 show more than 9,000 patients waited for 12 hours or more in the emergency department.

More than 34,000 calls were made to the ambulance service in February 2022

The Ambulance Service

More than 34,000 calls were made to the ambulance service in February 2022, an average of 1,228 calls per day.

It was the ninth month in a row where, on average, there were more than 100 immediately life-threatening (red) calls made each day.

The target for the ambulance service is for 65% of red calls to have a response within 8 minutes.

In February 2022, only 55% of red calls received a response within 8 minutes. But that did show an improvement from 52.5% in January.

There were more people waiting for longer than 36 weeks for treatment than ever seen before. Credit: PA Images

"The picture remains serious" says the director of the NHS Welsh Confederation, Darren Hughes.

He said: "Covid continues to have a huge impact on service delivery and patient care as does the difficult and challenging financial settlement.

"Waiting times and performance will not be fixed overnight - there is no quick fix here.

"What we do know is that leaders are committed to doing everything in their power to improve the situation."

Russell George MS

Commenting on the latest NHS waiting times , Welsh Conservative Shadow Health Minister Russell George MS said: “These sky-high numbers are devastating but not shocking because, sadly, they are becoming too common – but that cannot mean that we just accept that this is what Wales gets when it deserves so much better.

“We know that the pandemic has had a huge effect on waiting lists – not that they were great then with as they doubled in the year before Covid struck – but the excuse will eventually wear thin and become unjustifiable.

“The Health Minister keeps saying the health boards will report back with their plans to reduce these waiting lists, but Baroness Morgan should be leading them to a solution, not sitting back like a passive observer."

The Welsh Government says they will publish a plan in April on how to tackle the waiting times for patients whose treatment has been delayed by the pandemic.