A new report from the public spending watchdog says that NHS Wales could take seven years or more to return its waiting list to pre-pandemic levels. The watchdog’s modelling showed 700,000 patients were waiting for planned care in February 2022, double the number waiting in 2020.
Additionally, the report estimated that there are 550,000 “potentially missing” referrals in Wales that could find their way back into the system and have a “major effect” on waiting list recovery. Auditor General Adrian Crompton said “concerted action” would be needed on many fronts to overcome the challenges facing the health service here.
He said: “The Covid-19 pandemic will leave the NHS with many enduring legacies not least the significant impact it has had on waiting times for planned care. Just as the NHS rose to the challenge of the pandemic, it will need to rise to the challenge of tackling a waiting list which has grown to huge proportions.”
The Welsh Government said it had set realistic targets to tackle the backlog. The report says: “Over half of the people currently waiting have yet to receive their first outpatient appointment which means that they may not know what they’re suffering from and their care cannot be effectively prioritised.” It added that additional Welsh Government funding would be “essential” to tackling the backlog, but “on its own, will not solve the problem”.
“The NHS also needs to overcome some serious barriers, including the on-going impact of Covid on services, reducing the impact of emergency care on planned care service delivery and long-standing staff shortages and recruitment issues.”
The Welsh Government has said: “Working with health boards, we have set ambitious but realistic targets to tackle the pandemic backlog for planned care. This is backed by significant extra long-term funding. Our recovery plan, published last month, already sets out our plans to address the five recommendations of this report, including how we will support patients while they wait and create a sustainable workforce with effective leadership.”
Darren Hughes, director of the NHS Confederation told BBC Radio Wales on Tuesday: “The report makes for very sobering reading and makes clear the enormous scale of the challenge ahead, and NHS leaders need to be aware these are not just numbers, they are individual people’s lives.”
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