THOUSANDS of Gwent patients - among tens of thousands across Wales - could face years of waiting for operations as the NHS tries to undo the huge impact of coronavirus on a range of suspended treatments.

The effect of cancelling all elective - or routine - surgery last March in Wales as the pandemic took hold here, is laid bare in the first official waiting times figures to be released since then.

Wales-wide, they show an eye-watering increase over just six months of almost 500 per cent in the number of patients waiting longer than 36 weeks for treatment, from the point of their referral - from 28,294 at the end of March, to 168,944 at September 30.

In Gwent at the end of March, 1,571 patients had been waiting more than 36 weeks but by September 30, the number had reached 26,231.

Many specialties run by Aneurin Bevan University Health Board have taken a huge hit in terms of the backlog of patients that has built up since March:

  • The number of patients who by the end of September had been waiting more than 36 weeks for orthopaedic surgery, such as hip and knee replacements, in Gwent hospitals, had risen more than 700 per cent since March, to 9,079;
  • On March 31, 208 patients in Gwent had been waiting longer than 36 weeks for eye surgery. But by September 30 the figure had risen to 4,420;
  • Sixty-three ENT (ear, nose and throat) patients had been waiting more than 36 weeks for treatment at the end of March, but six months later, the figure was 3,704;
  • In dermatology, 11 patients had been waiting above 36 weeks at the end of March, but this had risen to 1,914 by September 30;
  • And in general surgery the list of 109 patients waiting more than 36 weks in March, had grown to 1,731 at the end of September.

Massive increases such as these - generally and in specific specialties - have been experienced by health boards across Wales.


Though some elective work has been re-introduced since the first wave of coronavirus ended in the summer, the numbers of patients treated - and seen through outpatient appointments earlier in the process - has fallen considerably compared to pre-coronavirus levels.

Capacity has been reduced because of the need to minimise infections risks, so the number of patients who can be treated during surgery sessions has reduced, and some operations are deemed too risky.

Staff absence or coronavirus care redeployment, and a reduction in operating theatres have also been factors.

NHS Wales chief executive Dr Andrew Goodall has warned today that the sheer size of the backlog, and ongoing limitations on the number of treatments that can be carried out, means the road to recovering waiting times performance will be long and hard.

"It will take us a number of years to recover, and it will take investment and resources also," he said.

"The overall waiting list has not changed so much, it's simply that patients have been shifted more to the end of the list as we've had to prioritise urgent and emergency cases."

Gwent GP Dr David Bailey, who chairs the British Medical Association's Welsh Council, called the figures "stark".

“The statistics illustrate the significant impact that Covid-19 has had on the NHS in Wales, and on the lives of patients up and down the country, delaying treatments for so many," he said.

“What is vital now, is clear messaging for these patients, many of whom have suffered, and continue to suffer, due to these delays.

"Clear communication which provides insight as to where they are in the system, may offer a small amount of peace of mind. To have no information at all will be for many, extremely distressing.

“We welcome Welsh Government’s acknowledgement that extra investment will be needed, as this will be key in driving these figures down, but we do need urgent clarity on what exactly will be available and how it will be spent.

“Doctors in Wales remain committed to tackling the backlog, but they must be resourced and protected in order to do their jobs.

"Improved patient and staff testing must become a clear priority, appropriate PPE [personal protective equipment] must continue to be guaranteed, along with dedicated Covid-safe wards in hospitals, to ensure spread of the virus is minimised as much as possible.

“We must not forget the need to look after the workforce, many of whom have been working in high risk environments since March, their wellbeing is paramount, without them there is no service.”