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NHS in Wales facing extremely ‘high demand’ and behind England for hospital waits

POLITICIANS have expressed concerns that the Welsh NHS is missing targets and is behind England for hospital and ambulance waits.

It comes as the NHS in Wales continues to see extremely “high demand”.

Some 1.4 million referrals for hospital appointments were made over the past year – the equivalent to nearly half the population of Wales.

Although the Welsh Labour Minister for Health and Social Care, Eluned Morgan had recently thanked NHS staff for “making strides” in clearing lists, she also expressed “disappointment” that health boards had not hit the target for those waiting over two years for treatment.

It comes in response to the latest NHS performance data for Wales, published at the end of last week.

The Welsh Government’s figures also reported that the ambulance service had also continued to receive “historically high levels of red calls”, with a 99% increase over the past four years.

The minister had written to health board chiefs, saying she was grateful at efforts made by NHS staff, after reporting “96% of pathways on waiting lists were now under two years”.

But her gratitude came with the emphasis that “more needs to be done”.

The figures showed that two year waits had reduced by 55% since the target was set, from 70,417 in March 2022 to 31,726 in March this year.

The majority of those waits, at 86%, were in seven speciality areas, that were recognised “as difficult to clear” when “ambitious” targets were set.

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They were in dermatology, general surgery, ophthalmology, urology, gynaecology, orthopaedics and ear, nose and throat.

Ms Morgan said the most urgent cases must still be prioritised but that she expected health boards to “work through waiting lists more quickly”.

“While I am disappointed that health boards have missed their two-year waiting list target I am pleased to see significant improvements have been made,” she said.

Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson for health and care, Rhun ap Iorwerth MS said “new thinking” was now needed following what he called “significant” missed targets.

He said: “Now we’re into spring, it’s clear that we’re no longer talking about seasonal pressures – we’re talking about a deep rooted inability to get to grips with the grid-lock in our NHS.”

He said the numbers raised “serious questions” adding: “When Labour can’t manage to their own targets, it’s hard to have any confidence in their ability to fix these issues.”

The Welsh Conservative Shadow Health Minister, Russell George MS argued that waits had been “virtually eliminated” in England.

He claimed there were now three times as many people waiting two years in Wales, than there are people waiting 18 months in England “…despite England having 18 times our population”.

This is “completely unacceptable” for the tens of thousands of people in Wales waiting years for treatment, he said.

“The Labour Health Minister needs to urgently address these figures,” he added.