EMERGENCY pressures and a reduction in extra work by some medical staff due to pension and tax issues, combined to send long treatment waits for Gwent patients rising to a six-month high by the end of May.

Between March 31 and May 31, the number of patients waiting more than 36 weeks for treatment rose from 110 to 463, the latter being the highest end-of-month total since November last year (739).

More than three-quarters (309) of these 463 patients are awaiting orthopaedic or eye treatments.

Publication of the May figures - the latest available - coincide with the announcement that Aneurin Bevan University Health Board will receive an extra £4 million during 2019/20, with the expectation being that waits of more than 36 weeks will be eliminated by the end of next March.

The current trend of rising numbers of long waits for treatment is frustrating for patients and health board chiefs alike, given that the aim was to tackle the issue much earlier than next spring.

A health board report on waiting times describes April and May as having been "challenging" due to continued emergency pressures which have forced the cancellation of operations due to a lack of beds.

Such pressures are not confined to Gwent hospitals, and neither is another contributory factor to rising numbers of long waits for treatment - issues with pension rules introduced in 2016, which means some consultants face tax issues if they work beyond planned hours.

This is causing problems with rising waiting times across England and Wales, and is unlikely to be addressed without central Government action.

"It is understood that the implications of current pension/tax issues is affecting the level of additional work being undertaken by some of the health board’s medical staff," states the health board report.


"Ophthalmology treatments are being outsourced and this should reduce the number of patients waiting over 36 weeks.

"Whilst this increase is a concern, the position is still significantly better than this time last year, when there were 1,090 patients breaching 36 weeks."

Wales-wide, the number of waits of more than 36 weeks for treatment rose by 38 per cent between March and May, from 8,985 to 12,398.