WAITS of more than 36 weeks for treatment in Gwent hospitals rose sharply in April, failing to build on a notable reduction in the previous month.
By the end of April, the number of patients waiting longer than 36 weeks had risen to 1,375 from 891 in March.
The latter figure was itself a big reduction on the February figure of 1,655, and while last month’s increase did not reach that peak, health bosses will be disappointed that the March reduction could not be sustained.
The waiting time covers the amount of time a patient has to wait from referral by their GP until the beginning of their treatment.
The Welsh Government’s target is for the vast majority of treatments to have begun within 26 weeks, but a small percentage are expected to take longer due to issues such as the complexity of a patient’s illness or illnesses.
No-one should have to wait longer than 36 weeks, however, and the continued failure across Wales to eliminate waits of longer than that are a persistent source of criticism for the NHS.
The March reduction – in Gwent and elsewhere – was down largely to the extra effort invested in minimising waits of longer than 36 weeks with a traditional March 31 deadline in mind. That has been the NHS financial end-of-year by which waiting times targets have to be met.
Eliminating waits of longer than 36 weeks by that date has previously been achieved in Gwent in the past, but this time it was beyond Aneurin Bevan Health Board, given the ever tighter squeeze on budgets.
Three years ago, the health board maintained a position of having no patients waiting more than 36 weeks for treatment for more than a year, but the extra investment required contributed to an overspend of several millions of pounds, and a decision was taken such a position was no longer sustainable.
Tens of millions have been invested across Wales by the Welsh Government in recent years to help health boards minimise waits and boards themselves, including Aneurin Bevan, regularly review lists and remove patients if a suitable alternative to the treatment list is available.
In Gwent, oral surgery, restorative dentistry and orthopaedics present the biggest challenges in terms of waits of more than 36 weeks for patients.