PATIENTS in Gwent are dipping into their life savings to fund a range of operations, rather than face delays and uncertainty on NHS waiting lists, health watchdogs have revealed.

One paid out £20,000 for a heart valve replacement after being told the waiting time would be six months, while another forked out £6,000 for treatment to deal with acute back pain and sciatic leg pain, rather than wait an estimated year for a consultant appointment and subsequent operation.

They are among a small number of responses received after Aneurin Bevan Community Health Council (CHC) asked for feedback from patients who felt delays for appointments or treatments had forced them to seek private care.

And a separate but related CHC request for patients’ experiences of delays to follow-up appointments revealed significant concerns, with patients worried about their health deteriorating, or long-term damage being caused, while waiting.

The CHC, which has reported its concerns on both issues to Aneurin Bevan Health Board, stressed that the sample of patients who felt that delays had forced them to go private was small – 13 – and therefore it was difficult to draw robust conclusions.

But five of those had raised concerns about orthopaedics, and the aforementioned example of the patient who paid £6,000 was typical.

Furthermore, an estimate of a year’s wait for a consultant appointment and treatment is way beyond the maximum 36-week waiting time target from referral by a GP to treatment (referral-to-treatment time, or RTT) set by the Welsh Government.

The latest figures, for the end of October, show that more than 2,000 patients from Gwent, across all specialities, had been waiting more than 36 weeks for treatment, among 12,281 throughout Wales.

More than 300 of these Gwent patients were waiting for treatment in other health board areas, the majority in Cardiff.

A CHC report on the issue states that patients felt “let down” by the NHS and resented having to “pay twice.”

Many patients cannot afford to seek private treatment and for others, using some of their savings because they feel they cannot endure a wait, or do not want to risk their health deteriorating, is very much a last resort.

The CHC regularly asks for patients’ feedback on NHS issues, and the 119 people who got in touch regarding follow-ups was a big response, indicating what its report calls “significant concern” about the issue.

Almost three-quarters (74 per cent) reported delays, with these ranging from two months to, in the most extreme case, more than two years.

Orthopaedics and ophthalmology were most frequently mentioned, with cardiology and urology featuring regularly.

A fuller report has been sent to the health board which has already drawn up plans to shorten delays and address the follow-ups issue.

It has declared its aim to eliminate all RTT waits of more than 36 weeks by the end of next March, though some specialities, particularly orthopaedics, are behind schedule.