THE number of Gwent patients waiting for treatment in the area's hospitals rose above 2,100 during June, amid a continued increase in such long waits across Wales.

By the end of June, 2,109 Gwent patients had been waiting longer than 36 weeks since referral for treatment in Aneurin Bevan University Health Board hospitals.

And a further 379 Gwent patients had waited longer than 36 weeks for patients for treatment in Welsh hospitals outside Gwent, pushing the total of such waits up to almost 2,500.

Wales-wide by the end of June, 16,400 patients had been waiting longer than 36 weeks from referral, an increase of 802 on May.

That monthly increase in Gwent was 286 - for patients awaiting treatment in a Gwent hospital. This represented a slowing in the rate of increase in the previous two months, but remains a considerable worry.

No patient in Wales should expect to have to wait more than 36 weeks from referral to treatment, under Welsh Government-set targets, but health boards are struggling to contain demand and respond to capacity issues amid a landscape of extremely challenging budget targets.

Several millions of pounds of extra funding was made available to health boards last year to help them meet treatment targets, but demand appears to be outstripping capacity despite this.

In trauma and orthopaedics, 1,148 Gwent patients had been waited longer than 36 weeks by the end of June, up 166 on May and more than double the figure at the end of March. In oral surgery the June figure was 634, up from 521 the previous month. Between them, these two specialties accounted for almost all of the monthly increase.

In recent months, health board chiefs have instigated a comprehensive review of outpatient waiting list cases, in an attempt to try to get a grip on demand, filtering out cases that no longer need the input of consultants and re-routing where appropriate those that would best be dealt with through for instance, physiotherapy input, or back in primary care.

Whether this has a meaningful effect on the numbers of patients on waiting lists remains to be seen, and even if it does, it will be several months before the effects begin to be seen at the sharp end of the waiting times figures.

Extra capacity outside of Gwent is likely to be required in some specialities, if significant short term progress is to be made on reducing, and eventually eliminating, waits of more than 36 weeks, but this must be achieved without plunging already tight budgets into the red.