Wales

Hospital waiting list rise in Wales blamed on cold snap

Ambulance
Image caption December's weather has been blamed for the rise in Welsh hospital waiting times

Waiting times for hospital treatment in Wales have risen after the coldest December for a century.

New figures show 331,794 are waiting, with 93.4% being seen within 26 weeks, against an assembly government target of 95%.

No patient is supposed to wait over 36 weeks but 4,013 cases exceeded that.

Ministers blamed rising bed demand for cancelled surgery in the freeze but Conservatives said it was a long term trend.

An assembly government spokesperson said: "Given the significant increase in pressure on the NHS in December - the UK's coldest for a century - and the associated increase in trauma and emergency admissions, some routine operations and consultant appointments were postponed.

"While this had an impact on waiting times, the vast majority of patients were still seen and treated within our targets thanks to the hard work of NHS staff.

"The NHS is working to re-arrange these postponed operations and appointments but this will affect these figures in the coming months."

Anthony Griffiths from Swansea has been waiting for an operation to remove part of his intestine and bowel since 2009 and his operation has been postponed four times.

"It's frustrating because you build yourself up, knowing it's not an easy operation and you're going to be in for a fortnight at least," he told BBC Wales.

"You get yourself all worked up and you ring around all day, phoning about seeing if you can get a bed."

Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board said it could not comment directly on an individual case.

"But we can confirm we have received a complaint and we are doing all we can to ensure Mr Griffiths receives his operation as soon as possible," it said.

"We can only apologise to him for the delay.

"As a health board we do our best to ensure scheduled operations go ahead as planned.

"Unfortunately, for a number of reasons, including emergency situations, we regret we sometimes have to cancel these operations.

"However, we continue to work hard to lessen the number of these occurrences."

Prof Ceri Phillips, health economist at Swansea University, said a slide in waiting times was "inevitable" given the weather conditions over Christmas and the norovirus outbreak at Morriston hospital in Swansea.

"The pressure on hospitals to achieve their waiting times targets has been increased," he said, "and the likelihood they would have met them or improve the situation is probably highly unrealistic."

He urged caution in looking at waiting times in isolation.

"Strict adherence to waiting times targets can (lead to) financial pressures which means you are not hitting financial targets," he told BBC Radio Wales.

"The situation is that people who are waiting, excessively really, are likely to deteriorate and the pressure therefore becomes even greater on them in terms of their quality of life but also on the fact that they probably have to consume other health care resources."

Conservative health spokesman Nick Ramsay AM said the figures were part of a long-term trend in missed waiting time targets and "mask services struggling to cope with demand."

"This week we saw Labour-Plaid AMs force through cuts to the NHS of £1bn over the next three years, which are likely to result in NHS patients waiting even longer for vital treatment."

Welsh Liberal Democrat health spokeswoman Veronica German said: "These figures show that the problem is spiralling out of control.

"The health minister needs to get a grip. We've had enough strategies and initiatives, now it's time for action that actually works and reduces the amount of time people wait. "

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