Over 768,000 patients on waiting lists in Wales as NHS backlog worsens

As of April 2024, over 7.57 million people in the UK, including Wales, were reportedly waiting for care and treatment on NHS waiting lists. Of these, around 6.33 million patients were waiting for treatment, with 3.16 million having waited over 18 weeks and 302,600 waiting over a year. The prolonged waiting times are attributed to ongoing service pressure, a backlog of care, and chronic workforce shortages, resulting in record-high waiting times.

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Emergency admission

The number of patients waiting over 12 hours for emergency admission rose slightly from approximately 42,100 in April to around 42,600 in May 2024. Alarmingly, this represents a staggering rise in waiting times that dwarf pre-pandemic levels, leaving many patients stranded for hours in dire need of emergency care, with reports of ambulances and access to hospital beds being delayed for extended periods of time.

At capacity and a hidden backlog

The NHS is struggling with a significant waiting list, largely due to poor patient flow, with bed occupancy at near maximum capacity since September 2021. The visible backlog can be addressed, but the “hidden backlog” remains unknown.

This hidden backlog includes patients who need care but who haven’t presented themselves for medical attention, as well as those waiting for non-consultant-led treatment or follow-up appointments. As a result, the headline waiting list figures don’t fully capture the extent of the problem, leaving the true extent of the backlog shrouded in uncertainty.

Wales below average on secondary doctors and GPs

Wales is facing a significant shortage of medical staff, with the number of full-time equivalent medical staff growing at a slower rate than the population, leading to increased demand on healthcare services. The population is ageing, with a projected 5% increase in residents over 75 by the end of 2024, requiring more healthcare due to chronic diseases. Wales falls short of OECD standards in terms of secondary care doctors and GPs, with a deficit of 647 and 663 respectively, resulting in a high and worsening waiting list for NHS treatment, with over 768,000 patient pathways in Wales alone as of March 2024.

Welsh Government failing to deliver on targets

Despite the Welsh Government’s commitments to transform and modernise planned care, new data has revealed that none of the five key ambitions set out in April 2022 have been achieved. The latest statistics from StatsWales show that patients waiting longer than 53 weeks are still prevalent, and those waiting longer than 105 weeks continue to rise. The graphs, which track waiting times from January 2020 to the latest available data, paint a concerning picture, with no signs of progress towards the government’s ambitious targets. As the Senedd Health and Social Care Committee continues to monitor progress, patients in Wales are left waiting for their appointments, tests, and treatments with no end to the chaos in sight.

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