Wales’ NHS Covid backlog could take seven years or more to return to pre-pandemic levels

NHS Wales could take seven years or more to return its waiting list to pre-pandemic levels, according to the public spending watchdog.

Auditor General Adrian Crompton (pictured) said “concerted action” would be needed on many fronts to overcome the challenges facing the health service.

“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.”

The watchdog’s modelling showed 700,000 patients were waiting for planned care in February 2022, double the number waiting in 2020.

“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 said.

Additionally, the watchdog 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.

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

“The NHS also needs to overcome some serious barriers, including the on-going impact of Covid on services, reducing the impact of emergency care on planned care service delivery and long-standing staff shortages and recruitment issues.”

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