Hospital waiting lists have grown again in Wales, although A&E wait times have improved despite a record increase in emergency units.
Health boards say emergency departments have “very little room to breathe” and services are no longer under winter or summer pressure.
There were 748,395 “patient lines” waiting to be hospitalized for treatment in May.
This is another 5,000 on the list, with 136,549 of these waiting over a year.
There’s also a goal that no one has to wait more than two years – but 30,769 people are still waiting that long.
Some patients have more than one waiting list, so there are an estimated 584,000 people on the waiting list, an increase of 1,600 and the third consecutive increase after falling in the previous five months.
The Welsh Government said: “While it was disappointing to see the overall number on the waiting list increase in May, the two-year wait has fallen for the 14th consecutive month and the average wait time for treatment has also decreased.”
The spokesperson added that Health Secretary Eluned Morgan “has set new targets for health boards to tackle the longest wait and we will continue to support them to improve performance”.
Waiting times in hospital could be adjusted to be equivalent to those of the UK.
This means that 20.1% of patients in Wales – in consultant-led specialties – are waiting for more than a year, compared with 5% of patients on the same waiting list in the UK.
This rate is gradually decreasing in Wales.
There are 4.5% patients in Wales waiting more than two years, compared with almost no patients in England – 0.01%.
The Welsh Conservatives say hospital wait times over these two years are not falling fast enough and it could take another five years to clear the backlog at the current rate.
“This is a worrying trend and the Labor Health Secretary needs to make it clear to those who have been waiting painfully for years, exactly how she will address the backlog by April 2024,” said Tory Health Department spokesman Russell George.
How does this compare to parts of England?
Northeastern England is described as more comparable to Wales than to England as a whole. It shares similar characteristics in terms of industrial heritage, population composition and levels of disease and poverty.
But nine health trusts in the north-east and Cumbria have performed relatively better than both England and Wales averages in terms of one-year wait rates. Only about 2.4% of the waiting list there is for a year, compared with 5.2% in England and 20.1% in Wales.
In Wales, health council Cwm Taf Morgannwg has the highest one-year wait rates with 24 per cent of those waiting for specialist advice.
There is no health trust in England, which has a longer wait rate than any medical board in Wales – closest is Manchester with 14% on a waiting list of more than a year for treatment.
The key post-pandemic recovery goal – that no one has to wait more than a year for an outpatient appointment – continues to be missed and has only decreased slightly over the past three months.
There are still 52,409 patients waiting more than a year for outpatient visits, a decrease of 422 monthly patients.
A&E’s four-hour target to get people admitted, transferred or discharged 72.5% of the time in June. The average wait time was 2 hours 37 minutes – one minute behind last month but generally back to pre-pandemic levels.
This comes with 3,278 average daily emergency department visits, the highest number on record.
This is 78 more per day on average than in May.
In total, 20% of people waited more than 8 hours in the emergency department.
Darren Hughes, director of the NHS Wales Federation, which represents health boards, said: “This shows the incredible determination and hard work of staff in the face of adversity.”
However, he said, without changes in improving public health and funding, “we cannot expect these levels of special needs to drop”.
Grange Hospital near Cwmbran (51.1%) and Glan Clwyd Hospital in Denbighshire (56.4%) performed worst against target.
When we compare major A&E units in Wales with similar level units in the UK, over the past 10 months, Welsh emergency departments have outperformed UK departments against the four-hour target.
Meanwhile, 8,526 people spent 12 hours or more on A&E, 457 fewer than last month.
The Royal College of Emergency Medicine said some patients who waited more than 12 hours were classified as a “breach exemption” and excluded from the data due to clinical and operational procedures.
Dr Suresh Pillai, vice president of RCEM in Wales, said: “We call on the Welsh government to ensure data is transparent and meaningful so that no patients are concealed.”
“To tackle urgent care delays, we must see the true scale of dangerously prolonged delays and repeal these 12-hour breach waivers.”
Although well enough to be discharged, 1,625 patients remain hospitalized. Most of these are elderly patients awaiting assessment, care or support.
Ambulance response times have improved again, with 54.6% of immediate life-threatening “red” calls handled within eight minutes in June – the best performance since summer 2021, although still off target.
The average response time is 7 minutes 16 seconds, 9 seconds faster than May and 39 seconds faster than a year ago.
Ambulance handover delays have decreased again – although there are still close to 18,274 “lost” hours.
This is a period of more than 15 minutes, when ambulances wait to hand over patients at major emergency units.
Cancer time-out performance was the worst at three months – with 54.1% of patients starting definitive treatment for the first time within 62 days of first suspecting cancer.
Simon Sheeres, of Cancer Research UK, said: “It is unacceptable that almost half of all cancer patients in Wales are not being treated quickly enough.
“Behind today’s numbers are patients who are worried about their future and the hard-working NHS staff who are already at full capacity.”
Plaid Cymru called on the Welsh government to draw up a plan to deal with the most urgent cases.
Department of Health spokesman Mabon ap Gwynfor said: “Five thousand more people are added to the waiting list and only one in two cancer patients get their first treatment on target – this is a government that is continuing to fail to tackle the bottleneck in our NHS.”
Professor Jon Barry, director of the Royal College of Surgeons in Wales, said: “In the month that we celebrate the NHS at 75, I am disappointed to see waiting lists continue to grow. These increases show the amount of work ahead of us to significantly reduce the number of patients waiting so long.”