THE number of Gwent patients waiting more than 36 weeks to start treatment topped 750 during December, almost a fourfold increase in just nine months.

And with the exception of September, the number of patients waiting longer than 36 weeks has increased every month since last March.

Of the 756 Gwent patients identified as long waiters (more than 36 weeks) at December 31, 435 were awaiting treatment in the area’s hospitals, with the remainder waiting to be treated in other health board areas, predominantly Cardiff.

The figures, the latest released by the Welsh Government, indicate the continuing pressure on health boards concerning referral-to-treatment times.

Ninety-five per cent of patients should expect to wait no longer than 26 weeks.

This has proved elusive for all health boards in recent times as, increasingly, has another key target – that all patients should be treated within 36 weeks of referral.

Last year Aneurin Bevan Health Board was the bestperforming of Wales’ health boards in respect of the 36- week target, as it set out to meet it as a top priority.

But its performance against that standard this year has reflected chairman David Jenkins’ warning from last summer that during 2012/13, given the need to find around £48 million in savings and having been overspent at the end of 2011/12, the emphasis would change.

The board went on record last year saying it would equally pursue key waitingtimes targets and other top service priorities, recognising it was “unlikely”, he said, to hit financial balance.

Last July Mr Jenkins said the board had come to a “different view” this year, determined to operate inside its financial allocation while still being driven by quality, safety, access, and performance targets.

By the end of March the aim will be to reduce as much as possible the number of patients waiting longer than 36 weeks, but whether such long waits can be eliminated is unclear.

Patients are redirected to keep numbers down

THE health board has also pursued a policy of – as far as provision of services allows – redirecting patients from the Gwent area who might previously have had treatment elsewhere, for instance, orthopaedic surgery in Cardiff, back into Gwent hospitals.

This has helped reduce the number of Gwent patients waiting more than 36 weeks for treatment outside the area, but at the end of December there remained more than 300 in that position, with 225 set for treatment in Cardiff.