NEW appointments, vetting of referrals, and a think before you refer campaign for GPs and hospital staff, are among a range of measures being implemented to help reduce waiting times for diagnostic tests and therapies in Gwent.

Hundreds of patients across the Aneurin Bevan Health Board area are waiting far too long for key diagnostic tests and therapies, with increases in demand coupled with staff shortages, vacancies, sickness and maternity leave causing big backlogs.

But the health board is reporting reductions across a range of diagnostics and therapies in recent weeks, as the new measures take effect.

The numbers of patients waiting more than the standard 14 weeks for therapies has fallen for the likes of physiotherapy, podiatry, speech and language, and occupational therapy.

And while waiting times for a number of diagnostic tests, particularly those in radiology such as MRI and ultrasound scans, are on the way down, there is some way to go before they reach an acceptable level.

Diagnostic and therapy waiting times have been causing concern across Wales, contributing to recent spats between senior political figures in England and Wales about the state of the NHS in Wales – but Gwent has been a hotspot for backlogs.

In physiotherapy, the health board has recruited new staff to try to deal with a high level of vacancies, and it is hoped the situation will improve.

Staff shortages have caused problems in podiatry and speech and language therapy.

Maternity leave has been the issue in the former, and cover is being brought in, while in the latter, services are being prioritised to try to cope with the pressur.

Demand for ultrasound scans has been growing, coinciding with a national shortage of suitably qualified scanners, and the situation has been compounded in Gwent by staff illness.

The waiting time standard is 14 weeks. A 22-week is typical and 36-week waits were increasing.

But a number of measures have been introduced that have helped reduce the ultrasound waiting list by almost 1,000 patients in the past six weeks.

These include the vetting all referrals for suitability, auditing 450 shoulder scan referrals, and a think before you refer campaign to try to temper demand.