Wales

Waiting times 'good news' promised by Vaughan Gething

Patient Image copyright Thinkstock

The public can expect "good news" about NHS waiting times by the end of 2016, the new health secretary has said.

Vaughan Gething said one of his priorities would be to "maintain the progress" made recently in reducing long delays for treatment.

The Welsh Government has faced consistent criticism about lengthening hospital waiting times.

The proportion of patients waiting more than nine months to start treatment has risen threefold in five years.

It has increased from 2% of patients in December 2011 to 6% of patients in December 2015.

But during three months of this year the figure dropped to 4%.

The target, however, is that no patient should wait that long.

But Mr Gething told BBC Wales that NHS Wales is likely, once again this year, to face a difficult winter as a result of increasing demand for emergency care from an ageing population.

"It's a really difficult challenge not just in Wales but in every part of the UK - I won't tell you winter won't be difficult," he said.

"But I think when you see the end of year waiting times there'll be good news for people in Wales. Part of our challenge is how to maintain the progress we've made in the second half of last year and continue to improve."

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Media captionHealth Secretary Vaughan Gething says there is no deadline for Betsi Cadwaladr coming out of special measures

Health board still faces 'challenges'

Mr Gething went on to claim that the health service in Wales was in a better financial shape than in England.

But he confirmed that two Welsh health boards - Betsi Cadwaldr in north Wales and Hywel Dda in west Wales - had overspent during the past financial year.

Mr Gething said though that the Welsh NHS as a whole had succeeded in balancing its books.

"Within the whole [health] department we lived within our means and that's really important when you look at the comparison with England - where the internal health department in the UK government overspent and the equivalent health bodies in England significantly overspent compared to ours here."

The new health secretary also confirmed that he would like to see cross-party discussions about developing a long-term vision and strategy for NHS Wales.

As part of an agreement with Plaid Cymru, the first minister announced that he would move to establish a "parliamentary commission" to discuss the NHS's future.

Mr Gething said he hoped parties across the political divide in the Welsh Assembly would engage in that process - to inform the development of of a new 10-year health strategy.

'Misleading'

On the EU referendum, Mr Gething dismissed claims made by those campaigning for a leave vote about the impact migration will have on the NHS's ability to cope if the UK stays within the EU.

David Davies MP claimed the Welsh NHS would need an additional £246m a year by 2030 to cope with EU migration.

But Mr Gething added: "I think the claims that have been made are outrageously misleading - deliberately designed to cause fear and anxiety and ignore the facts.

"We rely on European citizens to staff our health service - doctors, nurses and other professionals. If we took all of those out we wouldn't be able to run the service as we know it and as we want it to be."

He also said figures by the Vote Leave campaign ignored the fact that almost all EU migration were young work-active people.

"They are not net-detractors - they are net-contributors in the taxes they pay," Mr Gething added.

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