ROUTINE orthopaedic surgery at the Royal Gwent Hospital has been cancelled for the remainder of this week in the face of continued high levels of emergencies coming through A&E.

The decision has been taken by Aneurin Bevan University Health Board so it can "prioritise providing treatment for patients with emergency and and life threatening conditions", according to a board statement.

Yesterday, the board called on people with minor injuries to avoid the Royal Gwent if possible and instead use units at Ysbyty Ystrad Fawr, in Ystrad Mynach, and Ysbyty Aneurin Bevan in Ebbw Vale, as the level of emergency cases coming in meant delays for those with less serious problems were inevitable.

The high 'front door' demand is now having an effect elsewhere in the hospital's system, as more beds need to be found for emergency admissions.

Routine orthopaedic operations were also suspended at the Royal Gwent during last week, and the decision to use the measure again has not been taken lightly, according to the board's statement:

"We apologise to those patients whose operations have been cancelled. We are doing everything we possibly can to return to our normal operating levels but as you will appreciate we need to prioritise providing treatment for patients with emergency and life threatening conditions.

"The inpatient orthopaedic service is continuing to operate as normal at St Woolos Hospital, Ysbyty Ystrad Fawr and Nevill Hall Hospital, and day surgery orthopaedic procedures will also continue as normal at the Royal Gwent.

"We apologise once again for any inconvenience this may cause."

How many routine orthopaedic operations have been and will be cancelled is not clear, but the situation is likely to have an effect on treatment waiting times, and on A&E performance.

By the end of June, more than 1,100 orthopaedic patients had been waiting longer than 36 weeks from referral to treatment in a Gwent hospital and suspending routine surgery at a key site will hamper attempts to bring that number down.

Also, high numbers of admissions and attendances at A&E will be an obstacle to improving performance against four-hour waiting times targets.

Ninety-five per cent of people attending A&E should be dealt with inside four hours, a target that has proved repeatedly elusive across Wales.

In July, the Royal Gwent managed to deal with 86.7 per cent of the more serious 'majors' cases in A&E within four hours, some way off the target, but still better than a number of units in Wales.