2:01pm Tuesday 15th October 2013
THE number of Gwent patients waiting more than 36 weeks for treatment in the area’s hospitals rose by almost 40 per cent during August.
The monthly increase – from 1,165 at the end of July to 1,622 – mirrored a Wales-wide surge in long waits.
And more locally, it provides a stark contrast with the figure for the same last year, by the end of August 2012, just 43 Gwent patients had been waiting longer than 12 months.
It also means that there are now more than 2,000 Gwent patients whose referral to treatment time (from referral by their GP to the start of definitive treatment) has topped 36 weeks, as another 471 who need to be dealt with at hospitals in other parts of Wales have waited beyond that deadline.
Capacity issues are one of the main factors in the continued rise in waits of more than 36 weeks. Problems began last winter with surgical beds having to be occupied by medical admissions due to unprecedented demand. and the cold weather went on well into April, meaning hundreds of non-urgent operations had to be cancelled.
Even ringfenced orthopaedic beds, which have not been affected by surges in demand from medical admissions for several years, were breached earlierr this year.
Dealing with the backlog these cancellations caused has proved difficult, and August is traditionally a month when fewer operations are performed anyway, due to peak summer holiday leave.
Sickness and consultant vacancies are also an issue in some specialities, with ophthalmology and oral surgery particular problem areas.
Despite the August rise in waits of longer than 36 weeks – a monthly increase of 457 in terms of Gwent patients waiting for treatment in the area’s hospitals – the figure of 1,622 is below that predicted for August in Aneurin Bevan Health Board’s masterplan for dealing with long waits.
The health board will try to eliminate waits of longer than 36 weeks by the end of next March, and has submitted an action plan to the Welsh Governmentoutlining how it proposes to do this. The plan predicts a gradual monthly decrease in such waits to the end of next March, though its success will depend on a range of factors governing theatre usage and efficiency, and not least that winter pressures can be successfully handled without surgical beds being affected.
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