Wales NHS patient waiting list hits record high at almost 700,000 and ‘will continue to rise’

The number of people waiting for treatment from NHS Wales has reached record levels, with the Welsh Government admitting they are likely to continue to rise.

There are now 680,000 patients on the waiting list – the highest recorded figure since comparable data was first collected in 2011.

Although waiting list figures were high prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the number typically varied each month between 400,000 to 500,000 and tended to be highest in late summer and lowest in January.

However, since April 2020 the number has steadily increased every month.

In October, the latest data that is available, the number of people yet to begin treatment was over 45% higher than in the same month before the pandemic in 2019.

The percentage of people receiving treatment within the target 26-week period from point of referral remains extremely low.

While Wales has never hit its target of 95% of people waiting less than 26 weeks for treatment, from 2016 to 2020 the average was between 80-90%.

By the end of October 2021, of the almost 700,000 people waiting for treatment, only 54.7% had been waiting less than 26 weeks.

And 242,000 patients on that list, around 36%, had been waiting more than 36 weeks.

Meanwhile, the number of patients completing their treatment fell sharply when coronavirus hit the UK and has increased most months since then, but has not returned to the pre-pandemic level.

Ambulance response times against the eight-minute target improved for the first time in November since February 2021, however, there were fewer calls made to the ambulance service and fewer attendances at emergency departments.

Despite this, one in 10 calls made to the ambulance service were life-threatening – the highest on record.

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Our NHS is facing its toughest winter ever and our hardworking staff continue to show unwavering commitment to delivering high-quality care to hundreds of thousands of patients each month.

“We have committed £1 billion this Senedd term to helping the NHS recover from the pandemic and to treat patients as quickly as possible.

“This week we have also committed funding to deliver the Real Living Wage for social workers, who are critical to helping people out of hospital and freeing up bed space.

“However increasing challenges from Covid pressures mean waiting times have and will continue to rise,” they added.

“Our immediate focus is now on ensuring we deal with this next difficult phase of the pandemic and that patients can receive urgent care when they need it.”

“We are doing all we can to support our emergency and urgent services and we would urge everyone to Help US, Help You this winter by considering how they access care.

“Your local pharmacy and the 111 online service can provide advice for minor illnesses and ailments.”

The Government announced on Wednesday an extra £34 million for ambulances, including extra staff, non-urgent patient transport and increased military support.

It added: “It is encouraging to see improvement in the ambulance performance for November. But they and emergency departments remain under pressure.”

Welsh Conservative shadow health minister Russell George MS said: “Although coronavirus and the pent-up demand from previous lockdowns is obviously a huge factor in today’s damning statistics, there has to come a point when things get better.

“However, Labour’s record over two decades is one where things have gotten perpetually worse: doubling the waiting list in the year before Covid struck, experiencing its worst-ever A&E waits the year before the pandemic, and removing conditions like strokes from the red-call ambulance criteria.

“Moving forward, we need to relieve pressures on A&E in three steps: encouraging use of other services like minor injury units and community pharmacists, rolling out regional surgical hubs to deal with the treatment backlog, and making it far easier to access GP services.

“It is clear that Labour has lost its grip on the NHS. But we all must also have a serious national conversation on how we learn to live with this virus and the increasing demands we, as a nation, put on our national health service.”

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