THE WELSH NHS is “a long way” from meeting demand, bosses have said, as it was revealed almost 700,000 people are waiting for treatment.

This comes as the latest NHS Wales performance figures have been released.

The latest figures show that, as of the end of February, there were 691,885 patients waiting to start treatment across Wales – the highest number since the data was first collected in 2011.

Darren Hughes, director of the Welsh NHS Confederation, has said that, unless long-standing issues with social care in Wales are addressed, “there is only so much the NHS can do” to keep up with demand and make a dent in the backlog of patients waiting for treatments.South Wales Argus: The number of patients waiting to start treatment in Wales. (Credit: StatsWales).The number of patients waiting to start treatment in Wales. (Credit: StatsWales).

Almost 70,000 patients were taken off of waiting lists in February – which is an average of 3,492 per working day. This is a 1.7 per cent increase from January, and the highest since before the pandemic (February 2020).

NHS Wales and the Welsh Government has said one of the biggest issues facing the healthcare system in Wales is the current high levels of demand.

In March 2022, the number of patients who attended emergency departments across Wales rose by around 20 per cent from the previous month to 87,436.

The March figure is the highest since July last year, where 91,913 patients attended emergency departments.

South Wales Argus: The number of patients attending emergency departments in Wales. (From Welsh Government data).The number of patients attending emergency departments in Wales. (From Welsh Government data).

The Welsh Ambulance Service has also been under extreme pressure due to high levels of demand.

Across Wales, 3,583 ‘red calls’ – for immediately life-threatening issues, such as cardiac arrests – were made to the ambulance service in March – rising from 2,932 in February.

Teams arrived at the scene within eight minutes in 51.1 per cent of the red calls needing an emergency response in March 2022. Only in October (50 per cent) was this lower in the past year.

South Wales Argus: The number of immediately life-threatening calls made, and the response to them. (From Welsh Government data).The number of immediately life-threatening calls made, and the response to them. (From Welsh Government data).

The highest percentage of red calls arrived at within eight minutes was in April last year, where 61 per cent of the 2,636 calls requiring an emergency response were responded to in that time.

The Welsh Government has said the target is for 65 per cent of red calls to have a response within eight minutes. This was not met in any of the past 12-months looking at the Wales-wide figures.

What has been said?

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Covid-19 continues to impact waiting times and staffing levels. Increased Infection Prevention and Control measures continue to affect the level of activity health boards can undertake.

“Despite this, the number of patient pathways waiting over eight weeks for diagnostic tests decreased by 10 per cent compared to January 2022 and by 30 per cent compared to the high point of May 2020.

“There are several factors contributing to make it difficult for urgent and emergency care services to deliver timely care consistently. These include higher sickness absence rates and difficulties in discharging people from hospital, resulting in longer delays in Emergency Departments for beds.

“The national Six Goals for Urgent and Emergency Care Programme is intended to support Health Boards and partners to improve experience, outcomes and value, and we have made £25 million available in support.

“Next week we will publish a detailed plan on how we will tackle the waiting times for patients whose treatment has been delayed by the pandemic.”

Darren Hughes, director of the Welsh NHS Confederation, said: “The NHS is currently experiencing the highest levels of demand in its history, accompanied by the latest surge in Covid cases in the community and the implications this has on its ongoing ability to treat patients. Despite this, we’re seeing encouraging signs of progress in some areas.

“All parts of the system continue to deal with huge levels of demand with constrained capacity.

“But we can’t lose sight of the key issues here. The very real impact on urgent and emergency care as well as an increase in people waiting month after month for non-urgent treatment are symptoms of a whole-system under severe strain.

“The pressure on GPs, pharmacies, community services and crucially social care are limiting the NHS’s ability to provide treatment in other areas, which has a huge impact on patient flow through hospitals.

“Long waits in ambulances outside hospitals and A&Es are a result of problems freeing up much-needed hospital beds.

“Without directly addressing the long-standing issues in social care there is only so much the NHS can do to keep up with demand and make considerable inroads into the treatment backlog.

“It’s good to see progress in some important areas but health leaders still feel the NHS is a long way from a sustainable and resilient system that is able to meet and manage overall demand from patients.

“Frontline staff continue to step up to deliver care, but the conditions must be right for them to be able to deliver more for patients.

“We urge the public to continue to support the NHS by accessing services in the right way, at the right place, at the right time. NHS 111 online should be the first port of call for anything not immediately life-threatening.”

Welsh Conservative and shadow health minister Russell George called for the Welsh Government to “get a grip on the NHS” following these latest figures.

He said: “After Labour’s management of the NHS hit new lows as waiting times reached new heights last autumn, the people of Wales expected things to get better from there, not worse.

“But here we are on the verge of NHS waiting lists breaking its own record on a monthly basis for two years, A&E waits at their worst-ever, with ambulance responses not far behind – all the more dispiriting when things are getting better in England.

“Every one of these cases is more than a mere statistic – it is a person languishing in pain wondering how the public services they pay for have been so badly mismanaged. That person in one in every five: family, friends, colleagues – you will know one of them if you are not one of them yourself.

“Labour need to get a grip on the NHS and stop breaking all the wrong records.”