A&E waiting times in Wales hit worst-ever levels

A busy emergency unit at Wrexham Maelor hospital
Image caption This year has been the busiest on record for emergency care departments

Waiting times in Wales' A&E departments in September were the worst on record, according to the latest figures.

A higher proportion of patients than ever before waited beyond the four-hour and 12-hour targets in urgent care units, including A&E.

Just 75% of patients were admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours compared to the target of 95%.

The Welsh Government said increasing demand previously confined to winter was now a "year-round challenge".

A&E performance in Wales against target time

% of patients waiting four hours or less before being treated, discharged or admitted

Source: NHS Wales/Stats Wales, October 2019

A total of 5,708 people - 6.2% - spent longer than 12 hours in urgent care departments last month, the highest proportion since records began. Nobody should wait that long under the targets.

The Welsh Government said the deterioration reflected that this year was the busiest on record for emergency care, with last month being the busiest-ever September for A&E departments and the ambulance service.

A spokesman said: "Despite this, more patients were seen within the four-hour target than last September and the ambulance service exceeded its target for the 48th consecutive month.

"To meet this extra demand we're investing an additional £30m to support health and social care services for the rest of 2019-20, with a particular focus on winter."

Health Minister Vaughan Gething apologised to patients who have to wait too long, adding "It's one of the things that really bothers and concerns me about my job. People sometimes ask 'what keeps you awake at night?' This is one of them."

He also said there was an "ongoing conversation" about the merits of the current A&E targets, with more details expected to be announced in the spring.

Darren Hughes, director of the Welsh NHS Confederation, praised staff for "rising to the challenge" of exceptional demand.

He added: "There is significant work being done to transform the way we deliver our services."

This includes focusing on early interventions, prevention and wellbeing, he said.

"The public also have an important role to play. Do the simple things - make sure you get your repeat prescriptions before you run out, visit your local pharmacy first for help with coughs and colds, ear aches, headaches and digestive issues. Across the NHS we encourage you to look at the Choose Well website so that you and your family get the best treatment for your needs."

Welsh Conservative shadow health minister Angela Burns said the figures showed the Welsh Government's approach was "failing".

"Our hard-working healthcare professionals are fighting a losing battle to meet government-set targets without having all the tools at their disposal to do the job."

Last week it was revealed the summer had been the worst on record for A&E waiting times in England since targets were introduced.

If hospitals are overwhelmed with emergency cases, it can affect patients who are scheduled in for treatment, such as many hip operations.

NHS Wales provides live information on waiting times in A&E and minor injuries units.

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