HEALTH bosses in Gwent have declared the ambitious aim of achieving a key – and elusive – waiting times target inside the next two years.

A minimum of 95 per cent of people attending emergency departments in Wales should be dealt with inside four hours, but in Gwent as in the rest of Wales, this has proved beyond health boards for several years.

Only at individual hospitals on irregular occasions has the 95 per cent target been met, while in recent times the numbers of patients waiting more than eight and 12 hours to be dealt with have grown.

Performance against the four-hour target has improved very gradually during the past two years, with Aneurin Bevan University Health Board forecasting that by the end of March and the current 2013/14 cycle, 92.3 per cent of emergency department attenders will have been dealt with inside four hours.

The aim is to increase that to 94 per cent by the end of 2014/15, and achieving and sustaining the target during 2015/16 and beyond.

This however, must be done against a backdrop of rising attendances. Last year almost 164,000 people attended emergency departments in Gwent – primarily A&E at the Royal Gwent and Nevill Hall Hospitals, but also the emergency unit at Ysbyty Ystrad Fawr at Ystrad Mynach – and this year that forecast to climb to close to 174,500, an increase of more than six per cent.

The health board’s focus is on developing a sustainable mix of emergency staff, not least working toward boosting the level of consultant and senior doctor cover at the ‘front door’, seven days a week.

Investment has also been made in advanced clinical practitioner posts and the development of clinical decisions units to quicken assessments and decisions on admission or discharge for patients.

Emergency departments are also dealing with more elderly and complex patients, and in Gwent a Frail Older Persons Assessment and Liaison (Fopal) team has been created to improve the journey through the hospital system for these patients.

Another key part of the health board’s plan is to cut waits of more than 12 hours in emergency departments.

Two thousand patients are likely to have waited longer than 12 hours in Gwent emergency departments during 2013/14. The aim is to halve that figure next year, reducing to 500 during 2015/16, and zero during 2016/17.