Health Minister responds to latest NHS performance data

The Minister has written to health board chairs setting out her appreciation for the huge strides made by NHS workers in clearing waiting lists, with 96% of pathways on waiting lists now under two years, but has emphasised that more needs to be done to eliminate the longest waits.  

Two year waits have reduced by 55% since the target was set, from 60,684 in March 2022 to 27,400 in March this year.

The majority of those waits, at 86%, are in seven speciality areas, that were recognised as difficult to clear when the ambitious targets were set a year ago. Those areas are Dermatology, General Surgery, Ophthalmology, Urology, Gynaecology, Orthopaedics and Ear, Nose and Throat.

NHS Wales continues to see extremely high demand, with 1.4 million referrals for hospital appointments in the past year – equivalent to nearly half the population of Wales.

Average daily referrals in March this year were the highest on record and 14% higher than 12 months before.

Today’s statistics show an improvement in ambulance response times, with the best ambulance performance for immediately life-threatened patients in almost a year.

Health boards also increased the number of people being treated for cancer, while  14,230 people received the welcome news that they were clear of cancer, an 11.8% increase on the previous month.

A year since setting new targets for the NHS, as part of the recovery programme following the pandemic, health boards have shown some improvement, but this varies across Wales.

This is now demonstrated in the published statistical reports, where the performance of each health board can be monitored. People can also get a better sense of where they are in their health board’s waiting list by visiting the planned care pages on the 111 website.

The Minister said:

I have written to the health boards to express my disappointment that they have not hit the target for people waiting over two years for treatment.

I want to see more innovation, like at Ysbyty Gwynedd, where more than 90% of breast cancer surgery is performed as day cases, allowing patients to be managed more efficiently and recover more comfortably and sooner at home.

The most urgent cases must still be prioritised, but I expect health boards to work through their waiting lists more quickly. This includes by treating in-turn; increasing significantly the number of the longest waits through more day cases; provision of dedicated ring-fenced planned care beds; more efficient use of theatres; and reducing cancellations, late starts and early finishes of surgery.   

A year on from the launch of our Six Goals for Urgent and Emergency Care Programme, there are signs of encouragement in today’s urgent and emergency care figures, while we recognise there is still more work to be done.

Our ambulance service continues to receive historically high levels of red calls, where we have seen a 99% increase over the past four years. The number of red ambulance calls attended within the eight-minute target was 5.6 percentage points higher than in March, and 83% of red calls were answered within 15 minutes. The average response to amber patients in April was almost 40 minutes quicker than the previous month.

The average time spent by patients in Emergency Departments was just under 2 hours 40 minutes, an improvement on last month. There was also a 11% drop in the number of patients who spent over 12 hours in emergency departments before being admitted, transferred or discharged.

While I am disappointed that health boards have missed their two-year waiting list target, I am pleased to see significant improvements have been made and I will continue to hold health boards to account.