PLANS to slash Gwent waiting times for orthopaedic treatment are on track - but patients say the figures mask the grim reality.

The figures for June show patients needing treatment now wait 17 months - the Assembly's target is 18 months.

The number of patients waiting more than 12 months for treatment has decreased again, and is now under 3,000.

But Gwent Healthcare NHS Trust's chief executive Martin Turner stressed demand still outweighed resources.

"We are meeting targets," he told the Trust board yesterday. "But we are doing it substantially through waiting list initiatives."

Susan Jones, (pictured) 52, from Cwmbran, has been waiting since 1999 for operations on both her knees.

Mrs Jones was told she was no longer on the NHS waiting list but has been moved on to a private list.

She told the Argus the figures did not show the true picture: "The way I see it, they are just moving people around. I used to feel angry when I heard things like this, but now I am beyond caring.

"It seems to me that they are more concerned with paperwork than people."

In his monthly report to the board, Mr Turner said: "The trend of demand outweighing the initiatives the Trust is carrying out continues. The overall list size increased by 95 patients, at the same time reflecting increasing levels of outpatient activity."

The board heard that since April, the Trust had spent £1 million on reducing waiting times for orthopaedic treatment, compared to just £2 million during the whole of last year.

The fall means that for the fifth month in succession, patients have not had to wait more than 18 months for treatment, a key target set by the National Assembly.

The Gwent service was subjected to a high profile review last year by trouble-shooter Professor Brian Edwards, who concluded that millions needed to be spent in Gwent to solve the problem.

The Assembly wants the maximum waiting time for a first orthopaedic outpatient appointment cut to a year by March 2006.

Other waiting times revealed yesterday showed that patients needing cataract treatment were not waiting for more than four months, after substantial investment reduced the waiting list.

Mr Turner added that the focus on reducing waiting lists was not at the expense of urgent cases.