A&E: Welsh Government refutes claims waiting times have been under-reported for over a decade

  • ITV News spoke with Dr Suresh Pillai, Vice President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine Wales.

The Welsh Government has refuted claims the number of patients attending emergency departments has been under-reported for more than a decade.

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) had raised concerns about planning for the winter in the Welsh NHS after revealing the number of patients attending A&E has been under-reported for more than a decade.

It's due to "breach exemptions" not being included in official figures, which the Welsh Government says are included in official figures published every month.

A breach exemption is a patient who stays longer than the target times of four hours, eight hours or 12 hours because they require further assessment or test results before they can be discharged or admitted to a ward.

The RCEM claims 45,000 patients who were considered breach exemptions, who attended A&E, in the first six months of this year, were not included in local health board figures.

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Welsh Health Boards have confirmed that breach exceptions are included in the monthly data, in line with the guidance issued in 2011.

“We have seen no evidence to support the suggestion by the RCEM and the BBC that there has been any under-reporting or that our data is not comparable with the other parts of the UK.”

Speaking to ITV Wales, Dr Suresh Pillai, Vice President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine Wales, said: "23% of patients were exempted in the last decade. That's a huge number.

"What we are trying to do is make the Welsh Government aware because we want to see the raw data. If they want to include break exemptions too, that's okay, but we want to see the raw data.

Health Minister Eluned Morgan

"That way we can measure our performance. In England, they are already publishing the raw data."

Dr Pillai also says he is concerned about the impact winter pressures will have on the emergency departments in Welsh hospitals, especially if any plans have been based on this data.

He said: "If you have the wrong figures, how can you plan ahead? We know we're heading towards winter.

"If we've already made plans based on the figures we've already got, that wouldn't be a true reflection [of the situation]."

In response, a Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Breach exemptions (or clinical exceptions), should be included in our published Emergency Department statistics.

"Sometimes patients in emergency departments need an extended period of observation or treatment before it is safe to leave.

"Guidance has been in place since 2011 to help staff avoid inappropriately admitting or discharging these patients, in an attempt to ‘hit the target’.

"We have asked Health Boards for assurances they are following the guidance, to ensure the data is absolutely transparent.

Russell George MS

“Based on the data guidance and definitions, the collective view of the Office for National Statistics (ONS), and the responsible statisticians across the UK, is that Wales’ statistics for major emergency departments are comparable to the statistics for England and Scotland’s departments.”

The Welsh Conservative's Shadow Health Minister accused the Welsh Government of "wrongly touting their figures as better than England’s."

Russell George MS said: “Waiting times in Labour-run Wales are already exceedingly high across the board, for A&E with these new figures included, our overall waits are the worst in Britain.

“Now that the true and full picture in our Welsh emergency departments has been revealed, the Labour Government need to end their complacency and get to grips with these excessive A&E waits.”

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