THE NHS in Wales must change, and change must happen more quickly than in the past to meet financial challenges and the pressure on services, a Gwent health chief said.

Aneurin Bevan Health Board chief executive Dr Andrew Goodall told its annual general meeting that “we have to find a way to recognise that many things need to be sorted out.”

Rising demand, particularly for frontline emergency care and in specialties such as orthopaedics, allied to difficulties in recruiting doctors, are just two factors combining to put a strain on services.

There is also the continuing difficult financial climate, which has seen health boards faced with finding tens of millions of pounds in savings every year to bridge budget shortfalls.

In Gwent, annual savings targets in the last three years have topped £50m.

Chris Turley, the health board’s interim director of finance, called the current situation “the most challenging financial environment any of us in the public sector can remember.”

“We’ve always been open and honest about the financial situation and these challenges, and we have put productivity and efficiency first in trying to meet them,” he said.

“Ninety per cent of the savings we have made are recurrent.

This is not a slash and burn exercise, but has to be sustained.”

Dr Goodall however, said the health board is rising to the challenge, with the Clinical Futures services modernisation programme still at the forefront of its vision.

Two of the new hospitals proposed as part of Clinical Futures - Ysbyty Aneurin Bevan at Ebbw Vale, and Ysbyty Ystrad Fawr at Ystrad Mynach - are now open, and work continues on the proposal for a Specialist and Critical Care Centre to treat Gwent’s sickest patients, earmarked for the former Llanfrechfa Grange Hospital site near Cwmbran.

“Many people go through their working lives in the NHS without the chance to open a hospital. We have been lucky enough to have two in three years,” said Dr Goodall.