Waiting lists for NHS treatment continue to grow in Wales and are at their longest-ever, breaking the record set last month,

Ministers have pledged an extra £140million to tackle wait times – part of a new £551m cash package announced today to help the health service recover from the pandemic.

Coronavirus is currently accounting for a relatively low proportion of NHS demand. Across Wales there are around 200 people in hospital either with suspected or confirmed Covid-19 infection or those who are recovering. That figure makes up 2.4 per cent of current demand for beds.

However, months of cancelled treatments during lockdown periods mean there were 624,909 people waiting to be treated by the NHS at the end of June, the most recent month on record and the highest monthly figure since comparable records began in 2011.

To put that into perspective, that figure is 36.5 per cent higher than pre-pandemic deman in June 2019.

The government said the pandemic has had "a clear effect on performance against both of the referral to treatment targets", with more patients last month waiting longer than 36 weeks to start treatment, another record high.

Health minister Eluned Morgan said the bulk of the £140m cash injection would go towards health boards' reocvery plans, speeding up treatment for people who've been waiting the longest, while the rest would be invested in equipment and adapting buildings to increase capacity.

The remaining £411m from the total sum of the new funding would go towards managing the pandemic, including testing and PPE.

"The knock-on effect from dealing with the pandemic has also been huge," Morgan said. "Waiting lists have increased by more than 33 per cent and are now at record levels.

"Getting back to where we were before the pandemic is going to take a lot of time and investment in new ways of working."

Compounding the pressures on the NHS are record-high ambulance callouts. Last month the Welsh Ambulance Service reported the most monthly callouts since the pandemic began and the third-highest since comparable records were started in 2015.

The number of so-called 'red calls', for immediately life-threatening emergencies, was at a record high last month. Increased demand for emergency services meant waiting times for A&E patients have risen, with performance against the four- and 12-hour targets slipping.


“Following the knock-on effects of dealing with the pandemic, there’s no denying the health and care system has a huge challenge ahead," Welsh NHS Confederation director Darren Hughes said. "NHS leaders are doing all they can to deal with demand whilst rebuilding and planning for the future.”

And while coronavirus is not making up the bulk of the current NHS demand, Hughes said safety measures still in place to prevent infections, as well as workforce shortages, "make it very difficult to make headway with planned elective surgery".

Responding to the announcement of the new funding, the Welsh Conservatives' shadow health minister Russell George said the money was "very much welcomed but well overdue", pointing to long waiting lists and missed targets that existed before the pandemic.

"It is essential that this money does not run simply run out and there must be a long-term view to ensuring that we are not again in a position when one fifth of the population in Wales are expecting treatment," George said.

“This cannot begin without increasing capacity, starting with filling the 3,000 NHS workers vacancies that will save on the hundreds of millions spent every year on temporary staff."

Plaid Cymru said the waiting list figures "paint a bleak picture and expose just how frail our NHS is now".

Like the Tories, Plaid pointed out problems that existed before the pandemic, that is described as "chronic underinvestment and mismanagement".

Plaid's health spokesperson, Rhun ap Iorwerth, warned Wales should not get "trapped in an endless cycle" of increasingly worse waiting times and "short-term fixes".

"Behind these figures are real people – patients – in pain or under unbearable stress waiting unjustifiably long for treatment or diagnosis," he added.

“While any additional funding is welcome, there’s very little clarity on how the £551m will be used. And hand in hand with any short-term plan to deal with the developing situation as we head into winter, we need to see from government a long-term post-Covid plan to tackle long waiting times, prioritise services like cancer diagnostic and treatment, and approach investing in our NHS with the innovation it requires."

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