CUTS in waiting times for planned care have been described as “remarkable” by the boss of Swansea Bay University Health Board, but he said the overall quality of service for patients was often variable and occasionally poor.
Mark Hackett said the health board had achieved some of the biggest waiting time reductions in Wales, but he wished it could be faster.
The Welsh Government has pumped extra money into the NHS to deal with appointment and operation backlogs, and between April and December last year there was a 38% cut in the number of patients waiting more than two years for treatment in Swansea and Neath Port Talbot – down from 13,083 to 8,066.
And cuts of 14%, 18% and 21% were achieved for three shorter-term waiting time metrics.
Speaking at a board meeting on January 26, chief executive Mr Hackett said: “In planned care we have made remarkable reductions, as the report shows, across a whole range of indicators.”
Next year he said he hoped the number of people waiting for two years or more would plummet to zero.
Planned orthopaedic care is being centralised at Neath Port Talbot Hospital, where three “modular” operating theatres are expected to be ready for use in June. Mr Hackett said several nurses recruited from India will work in orthopaedics, and that overall the health board was aiming to recruit 350 nurses this year.
He said the picture for cancer care was mixed, with nearly half of the 242 patients treated for cancer last November waiting more than 62 days. There were “real problems” staff-wise, he said, in diagnosing gynaecological cancer.
Health board chairwoman Emma Woollett said only one cancer specialty area was meeting the 80% target treatment time, and asked for a report to be done on each specialty and brought back to board members.
Mr Hackett said plans to centralise acute medicine at Morriston Hospital had taken a significant step forward this week with all remaining medical admissions stopping at Singleton Hospital, ending decades of the two sites delivering acute medical services.
The bigger picture for unscheduled care has been less rosy at Swansea Bay and across Wales in recent months. More people waited for longer at accident and emergency in December in Swansea Bay than the previous month, and more ambulances took longer than 30 minutes to hand patients over. There was a reduction in the number of ambulances waiting more than four hours to hand patients over but the December figure was, nevertheless, 353.
A big part of the problem, as has been widely reported, is the large number of patients who are well enough to leave hospital but who can’t for reasons including no onward package of care. There were 251 of these patients on average in Swansea Bay’s hospitals in December.
Mr Hackett said: “We have had a really tough period of extreme pressure in the emergency care system. Far too often the quality of service we are offering is variable or poor on occasions.”
This had to be addressed although the causes were “multi-factorial”, he said, with Swansea and Neath Port Talbot councils – which arrange social care – part of the discussion.
Ms Wollett said the pressures had been tough for staff as well as patients, and that 2023 had started with “a bang”. Despite this, she said, she had received a lot of letters praising staff.
She said rethinking how care was provided, particularly delivering more in the community, was fundamental, and that was she was optimistic the health board could make a significant difference to the population’s quality of life “despite all the doom and gloom at the start of the year”.