MORE than 1,600 patients had been waiting longer than 36 weeks for treatment in Gwent hospitals by the end of February, a small improvement on the previous month.

The fall, from 1,723 in January to 1,605, was welcome following a big increase during December-January – but Aneurin Bevan University Health Board along with other health boards across Wales face a long battle to eliminate waits of longer than 36 weeks, which should not happen, according to Welsh Government targets.

Gwent health bosses late last summer issued a plan based on eliminating waits of longer than 36 weeks from referral to treatment by the end of March. But it rapidly became a forlorn hope, as the numbers of patients coming through the system more than cancelled out efforts to slash the backlog during the autumn and winter.

Wales-wide, there were more than 15,000 patients who had been waiting longer than 36 weeks by the end of February – around one in every 27 patients in the system, though the Gwent ratio is better, at one in 47 patients.

This was the best ratio for waits of longer than 36 weeks of all health boards in Wales, except Powys, which does not have an acute hospital.

Better news from February’s figures was a fall of more than 800 patients – to 5,652 – in the 26-36 weeks waiting times category, which followed a reduction of almost 300 the previous month. Ninety-five per cent of patients should begin treatment within 26 weeks of referral.

In addition to long waits in Gwent hospitals, there were around 400 patients from the area who by the end of February had been waiting longer than 36 weeks for treatment in hospitals in other parts of Wales.

More than half (248) of these had been referred to Cardiff and Vale University Health Board for a range of treatments, including more than 40 who were still waiting for heart surgery, in the aftermath of well-publicised problems with provision at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff.