A MASSIVE backlog of patients in Gwent - whose waits for treatments and tests would have breached waiting times targets had these not been suspended due to coronavirus - has built up ahead of the restart of routine services in the area’s hospitals.

More than 8,000 Gwent patients had been waiting longer than 36 weeks for treatment, and more than 13,000 had waited beyond eight weeks for a test, by the end of May, according to the latest available figures - and the numbers are likely to be even higher now.

It was recognised back in March when elective treatments were suspended, not only in Gwent but across Wales and the rest of the UK, that there would be a significant negative impact on treatment waiting times. But the focus then had to be on trying to stop the march of coronavirus.


It had been hoped - pre-coronavirus - that by the end of March, around 850 patients would have been waiting longer than 36 weeks from referral to treatment in Gwent hospitals.

The aim was to try to gradually reduce that number through 2020/21, but instead by the end of May, according to albeit unvalidated health board figures, 8,148 patients had been waiting more than 36 weeks for treatment.

The health board had hoped too, by the end of March to have eliminated waits of more than eight weeks for diagnostic tests and to have maintained that position. Instead, by the end of May - though again unvalidated - there were 13,171 patients who had been more than eight weeks.

The aim was also to have eliminated waits of more than 14 weeks for therapies by March 31. The coronavirus restrictions foiled this, and by the end of May, almost 2,000 patients had been waiting more than 14 weeks.

It is a situation mirrored across Wales and the UK, and one that is likely to take years and many more millions of pounds to solve - but with coronavirus, and how to keep patients and staff protected against it, an ongoing and likely long term reality, new expectations of testing and treatment times may have to be forged.

Routine surgery and tests are being reintroduced gradually into Gwent’s hospitals but the waiting lists figures show the scale of the task ahead.

The health board’s coronavirus response plan posits a three-way way balance going forward, between providing routine services, maintaining essential services, and managing variations in incidence of Covid-19.

Capacity will be planned in cycles of four-six weeks, for all services, with a focus on ensuring that management of coronavirus, and staff and patient safety, are at the forefront.

More theatres are now available at the Royal Gwent, Nevill Hall and St Woolos Hospitals, and at Ysbyty Ystrad Fawr, than there were during the height of spring’s coronavirus surge, and more beds are available for non Covid-19 patients.

The Grange University Hospital also offers the prospect of more theatre, beds and critical care capacity, though a final decision is awaited from the Welsh Government on a plan to open it in November, ahead of a winter that could test the NHS in Gwent and the rest of Wales like never before.

The challenge will be to get to grips with those elective surgery and tests waiting lists again while being able to respond to future fluctuations in coronavirus.