A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “In April last year we set a target to eliminate the number of patient pathways waiting for longer than a year for their first outpatient appointment by the end of 2022. We knew that this would be challenging , but we wanted to see a real focussed effort on this by health boards. We are disappointed that this ambitious target, which was not set in England, has not been met.
“We will continue to press health boards to focus on the longest waiters, once the urgent cases have been dealt with.
“December was one of the toughest months in the history of the NHS, with high covid and flu rates, huge demand caused by concerns over Strep A and industrial action impacting on activity.
“Despite the pressures, progress continues to be made across planned and emergency care in the NHS in Wales. Official statistics show nearly 320,000 consultations+ were carried out in December in hospitals alone and in one week in December primary care (GP surgeries etc) had contact with over 400,000 patients. We are pleased to see that because of the incredible efforts of our NHS staff the overall number of patient pathways fell for the third consecutive month, while in England these have been rising.
“We are also pleased that progress continues to be made on the longest waits and two year waits for treatment have fallen for the ninth month in a row, down by 36% since the peak in March. Whilst in many specialist areas the two year waits have been eliminated altogether, there are seven specialist areas where the numbers waiting are unacceptably long.
“We continue to press health boards, to focus on those areas where the lists are longest and to explain how they plan to match performance standards achieved elsewhere in the UK.
“Despite missing the outpatient target the number of pathways waiting longer than one year for their first outpatient appointment decreased by 12.1% in December compared to the previous month and fell for the fourth consecutive month to the lowest since January 2021. We have seen a reduction of 27% from the peak reached in August 2022. Like the situation in relation to long treatment waits – 9 out of 10 of those waiting over 52 weeks are across just seven specialities.
“We are particularly relieved to see an improvement in the emergency care access times in January however the position remains volatile, particularly in light of ongoing industrial action and other concurrent risks in the system.
“Thankfully January saw lower levels of demand on ambulance services which, alongside targeted actions taken to increase capacity including the provision of almost 600 community beds, enabled an improvement in response times for Red and Amber. Performance also improved against both the four and twelve hour emergency department waiting time targets, and the average time spent in emergency departments decreased to two hours and thirty five minutes, the best since April 2021.
“Whilst emergency care performance has improved over the last month, it is not where we expect it to be, we are still seeing far too many people experiencing delays across the system. We continue to drive system improvements, including extending same-day emergency care services to open seven-days a week, improving management of 999 patients on the phone, and implementing operational guidance to support hospital flow.”