Wales NHS waiting times highest in two years, figures show

Health Minister Mark Drakeford said reducing waiting times must be a priiority

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The number of people waiting longer than nine months for hospital treatment in Wales has reached its highest level in two years.

Numbers rose to 13,269 people at the end of November - an increase of about 1,000 on the previous month and nearly 8,000 since March 2013.

The Welsh government's target is to treat all patients within nine months.

Health Minister Mark Drakeford said the Welsh NHS was "under pressure" but stressed it was not "in crisis".

He told BBC Wales: "There are fewer people waiting overall in the Welsh NHS than before.

"The number of people waiting over 26 weeks has come down but I am disappointed to see the rise in people waiting over 36 weeks.

"I've made it clear to local health boards, even in the difficult period over the winter, I expect them to concentrate on those longer waiters and I do expect to see those figures coming down."

'Increasingly worsening crisis'

Official figures also show 88% of people waited less than 26 weeks to start treatment. The target is 95%.

Targets, or the failure to hit targets, was a dominant theme at the end of last year, and 2014 has begun in similar fashion.

Results like these are certain to keep the performance of the Welsh NHS under the spotlight. David Cameron was among those who led the criticism.

It's not just referral times, there have been problems with ambulance response times, waits at accident and emergency departments and cancer treatment.

The Welsh government has said it's reviewing some of these targets.

Opposition parties branded the review a cynical attempt to gloss over failures.

But ministers insist that clinicians have told them they're inappropriate in some cases and don't reflect clinical priorities.

In fact, following the advice of health professionals has become one of the main defences by the Welsh government as it carries out a major restructuring of many parts of the health service.

Mr Drakeford said it was up to the local health boards to manage the situation and speeding up waiting times "has to be the priority" for the Welsh NHS.

But Conservative health spokesman Darren Millar described the situation as an "increasingly worsening crisis".

"The minister's only answer is to review his own targets. That's a weak cop-out that simply doesn't address Labour's waiting times fiasco," he said.

"More people than ever are waiting an unacceptably long time for treatment and I urge Carwyn Jones to publicly apologise."

Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams called the figures "disgraceful".

"Waiting for the start of their treatment is a very stressful time for any patient," she added.

"Reducing these long waiting periods has to be a priority for this Welsh Labour government.

"Whether it is inadequate cancer care, poor ambulance response times or lengthy waiting times, the Welsh Labour government is failing to offer the health service that patients in Wales need and deserve."

Plaid Cymru health spokesperson Elin Jones said: "This is the predictable result of health boards not scheduling surgery over the winter months.

"Our NHS is already stretched to capacity, so clearly the only result of postponing surgery was going to be longer waiting times."

Waiting times

Health board Patients waiting 36+wks Proportion

Source: Statistics for Wales/NHS for November 2013

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