Watchdog warns it could take seven years to clear Wales' NHS covid backlog

  • Video report by ITV Wales Journalist Owain Phillips

It could take seven years or more for NHS Wales to return waiting lists to pre-pandemic levels. That's according to the public spending watchdog, Audit Wales.

Its modelling showed 700,000 patients were waiting for planned care in February 2022, which was double the number waiting in 2020.

The watchdog has also estimated that there are 550,000 "potentially missing" referrals in Wales that could find there way back into the system and have a "major effect" on waiting list recovery.

"Over half of the people currently waiting have yet to receive their first outpatient appointment which means that they may not know what they're suffering from and their care cannot be effectively prioritised."

It added that additional Welsh Government funding would be "essential" to tackling the backlog, but "on its own, will not solve the problem."

Currently, orthopaedics, general surgery and ophthalmology make up 39% of the total waiting list. And 53% of people have been waiting over 26 weeks for treatment.

The Welsh Government currently has the following targets for waiting lists:

  • No one waiting for longer than a year for their first outpatient appointment by end of 2022.

  • Eliminate the number of people waiting longer than two years in most specialities by March 2023.

  • Eliminate the number of people waiting longer than one year in most specialities by spring 2025.

  • Cancer diagnosis and treatment to be undertaken within 62 days for 80% of people by 2026.

At present, there are said to be 550,000 "potentially missing" referrals in Wales.

The Auditor General of Audit Wales, Adrian Crompton has said "concerted action" is needed to overcome the challenges the health service faces.

"The Covid-19 pandemic will leave the NHS with many enduring legacies not least the significant impact it has had on waiting times for planned care," he said.

"Just as the NHS rose to the challenge of the pandemic, it will need to rise to the challenge of tackling a waiting list which has grown to huge proportions."

In response to to the findings the Welsh Government have said: "Working with health boards, we have set ambitious but realistic targets to tackle the pandemic backlog for planned care. This is backed by significant extra long-term funding.

"Our recovery plan, published last month, already sets out our plans to address the five recommendations of this report including how we will support patients while they wait and create a sustainable workforce with effective leadership."

Commenting on the matter, the Welsh Conservative and Shadow Health Minister Russell George MS has said:

"No one blames the hard-working doctors and nurses but the poor lack of planning from the Labour Government that occupy their time prioritising more politicians in Cardiff Bay than resolving the cataclysmic state of NHS waiting lists and the increased cost-of-living.

"It was a Labour health minister that said it would be foolish to have an NHS recovery plan before the end of the pandemic. This attitude has clearly been crucial in leading 1-in-5 people to be on an NHS waiting list, with 70,000 of them languishing in pain for over two years.

"Hopefully, this report is a wake-up call for the Labour Government to get a move on and show some leadership instead of leaving health boards to do all the heavy lifting. Labour need to get a grip on the NHS and stop breaking all the wrong records."