The hospital waiting list crisis in Wales has reached breaking point, with the number of patients waiting over nine months for hospital treatment more than doubling in six months.
Patients waiting for operations or other treatments rose to 13,269 people at the end of November last year – the highest level in two years and a rise of almost 8,000 since March of last year.
While the Welsh Government's aim is to treat all patients within a nine month period, Health Minister Mark Drakeford said that he believed the Welsh NHS was not “in crisis,” but that it was “under pressure.”
Mr Drakeford said that, overall, there were less people waiting in the Welsh NHS system than before and the number of patients who were forced to wait over 26 weeks had dropped. However, the number of people waiting more than 36 weeks had risen, he confirmed, adding that he was “disappointed” to see this. However, he expected to see those numbers fall as local health boards were encouraged to focus on such patients.
Official figures showed that 88 per cent of patients waited under 26 weeks before starting treatment, while the target is 95 per cent. Mr Drakeford confirmed that speeding up waiting times now “has to be the priority" for the Welsh NHS.
Highlighting the need for waiting times to be improved across Wales was the leader of the South Wales Cardiac Network, who said that certain patients are dying as they wait for heart surgery. Powys GP Dr James Wrench, said that many patients are not able to wait as long as 26 weeks and are either opting to go private or be treated in England instead.
Two of Wales’ leading hospitals in Swansea and Cardiff are struggling to cope with the demand on their services from those in need of specialist heart treatment and cardiac surgery. Recent figures from the Royal College of Surgeons and Health Inspectorate Wales showed that 152 patients had died in the past five years while waiting for heart surgery at one of these hospitals. The organisations said that the long waiting lists were a “plausible explanation” for the figures.
Following the figures, the Welsh Government has said it expects improvements to waiting times for heart patients as a result of the new Heart Disease Delivery Plan, which was launched in May 2013. The plan asserts that the treatment for the majority of patients suffering from cardiac disease must start within 26 weeks.