GWENT'S health board is proposing to try to eliminate waits of more than 36 weeks for treatment in its hospitals by the end of November - except for patients awaiting orthopaedic and oral surgery.

A referral to treatment (RTT) plan has been submitted to the Welsh Government that proposes a November 30 deadline for all specialties except the aforementioned pair.

These contribute the majority of existing waits of more than 36 weeks, and the plan proposes that the problem of such long waits be dealt with in these two specialties by the end of March next year.

Tackling the issue of RTT waits of longer than 36 weeks is a Wales-wide priority and one that continues to be increasingly challenging against a backdrop of the financial squeeze in the NHS in Wales.

Aneurin Bevan University Health Board had intended to eliminate such waits by the end of March this year, and published a plan last autumn detailed how progress would be made on that aim.

But this proved too ambitious, and by that March 31 deadline, 878 Gwent patients had been waiting more than 36 weeks for treatment.

By the end of June, as reported in the Argus earlier this week, the number of patients waiting more than 36 weeks for treatment in Gwent had risen above 2,100.

Of these, 1,148 were awaiting orthopaedic treatment, and 634 oral surgery. Given such numbers, it is likely that extra capacity will have to be found outside of Gwent and in the private sector but paid for by the NHS.

Lists of long waits in other specialities, such as general surgery, ophthalmology and ENT (ear, nose and throat) appear more manageable on a shorter timescale.

Details of how the plan to tackle long waits will progress have not been published and the Welsh Government has yet to respond - but dealing with the issue is a key aspect of the delivery of the aims of the health board's three-year plan.

This latter plan presents a comprehensive overview of the health board's aims to the end of 2016/17, based on five areas of what it calls strategic change. These focus on: reducing inequalities in health in Gwent; providing value-based clinical services; making maximum use of capacity by doing things "the right way - first time, every time"; redesigning services; and the workforce.

The maximising capacity aspect of the three-year plan has eliminating waits of longer than 36 weeks as a key aim.

Welsh Government targets state that no-one should wait longer than 36 weeks for treatment.

Also, no fewer than 95 per cent should wait longer than 26 weeks, but such are the numbers in the 26-36 weeks bracket, the health board proposes achieving a 93 per cent level by the end of next March.