A CRIPPLED Gwent widow with a crumbling hip must wait up to three years before she can see a specialist, let alone have an operation.

Dorothy Meats, 77, of Pontllanfraith, has chronic arthritis and needs a hip replacement.

But she was told by letter that she could wait up to three years to see a consultant, although Gwent Healthcare Trust says this is the maximum amount of time someone would have to wait.

Mrs Meats told the Argus: "I'll be 80 before I see the consultant."

Mrs Meats is virtually housebound and is in constant agony. She has not had a decent night's sleep for months because of the intense pain.

Her furious son-in-law, Roger Robinson, 51, said: "There's a lot of good about the NHS, but not where the waiting-lists are concerned.

"It takes her half an hour to walk 200 metres - she's literally bent over." Mrs Meats said: "It all really started about two or three years ago.

"My hip is crumbling and one leg is shorter than the other. It's very painful." She was referred to a consultant by her GP. She did not expect an appointment immediately - but was shocked by the 36-month wait.

She said: "Three years is a very long time, and that is just for an appointment.

"The letter does say that if my situation changes I should return to my GP so that I can be reassessed," she added.

Mrs Meats now hopes to speed up the process because of the pain she suffers.

She said: "I always used to be an active person. Sometimes I really cannot eem to get going. It's frustrating."

Mr Robinson added: "She's a very bubbly lady, but this stops her from sleeping. There's no release."

Mrs Meats is supported by neighbours, who help with her shopping. Last March the waiting- time for patients to see a consultant was 36 months, but Gwent Healthcare Trust is trying to reduce that.

The aim is for the waiting-time to be cut to 18 months by March 2004. A spokesman for the Royal Gwent Hospital said letters are still sent out, stating the maximum period a patient may have to wait.

But he stressed: "The waiting-time of 36 months is no longer accurate."