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Pensioner goes private for healthcare in bid to end his chronic pain

AN 84-year-old is using his retirement savings to have a private hip replacement because he can’t be sure when the NHS can put a stop to the pain.

Clive Pepler, of Loughor, said the operation at Swansea’s Sancta Maria Hospital would cost between £10,000 and £11,000, but that he couldn’t wait any longer.

Health bosses at Swansea Bay University Health Board said they were trying to reduce orthopaedic surgery waiting times but were dealing with a very high number of emergency admissions.

As a result, one of Morriston Hospital’s wards, which normally deals with patients like Mr Pepler – Ward W – has been closed to planned surgery since April.

“It’s not only the pain,” said Mr Pepler. “I can’t mow the lawn, I can’t trim the hedges.

“This has really dragged me down. I don’t want to be sitting in this chair for the rest of my life.”

Mr Pepler said his GP referred him for assessment in August 2018.

He saw a consultant privately in November – and then a Morriston Hospital surgeon in February 2019.

“He told me I was on the urgent list, and that the wait would be six to eight months,” said Mr Pepler.

“He also said, ‘Don’t leave it too long’.”

Mr Pepler said he contacted the hospital several times after February and was advised of the ongoing pressures with emergency care.

Unsure of how long the wait would be, he said: “This is what made me go for a private operation.

“Winter is coming, and accident and emergency are snowed under at the best of times.”

He added: “It is a big chunk of retirement savings, but I’m fortunate really that I can pay for it.”

Mr Pepler, who lives with his wife in Jubilee Lane, worked for South Wales Transport for 36 years, and said he had been well cared for by the NHS when needed.

But he said he felt let down with the hip situation, although it wasn’t the fault of NHS staff.

“I know I am an old man, but this really has made an old man of me,” he said.

Referral to treatment times for orthopaedic cases like Mr Pepler’s should be 36 weeks.

Some patients have had to wait more than 100 weeks, but Morriston Hospital service director Deb Lewis said the average wait was around half that.

She apologised to patients and said letters would be sent to those affected explaining the reasons – the key one being the very high level of emergency admissions.

She said health board chiefs were doing all they could to re-open Ward W to planned orthopaedic surgery as soon as possible.

The health board, which covers Swansea and Neath Port Talbot, has carried out 1,200 planned operations this year – and continues to arrange surgery via other health boards or the private sector where appropriate.

Ms Lewis added: “For more complex procedures, or for those patients with other medical conditions that restrict where they can have surgery, we are looking at further options to provide surgery in a suitable setting.”

Swansea man Dave Cottle is also preparing to go under the knife at Sancta Maria Hospital, Ffynone, but unlike Mr Pepler the cost will be covered by the NHS.

Mr Cottle said he saw a surgeon around three years ago but declined to go on the waiting list as he was coping with his hip.

After seeing a registrar early last year he was put on the waiting list, and said he was advised the wait would be 18 months to two years.

“Over the last three months it (the hip) has deteriorated badly,” said the 62-year-old musician, of Langland.

“I’m quite fortunate with the way things have panned out.”

BBC Wales reported last week that over 1,000 people had been waiting more than a year for specialist surgery at Morriston Hospital.

They included Trisha Adams, 55, who said she had waited nearly 18 months for a hip operation.

She said she was at her wits’ end.

Despite being on painkillers, she said: “It’s like a red hot poker in my leg.”

Welsh Conservative AM Suzy Davies has called the long waits “not acceptable”.

Figures released last week also showed that September was the busiest month ever for Wales’ emergency departments.

Three-quarters of these patients were admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours, compared to the target of 95%.

Nearly 9% of Swansea University Health Board’s emergency department admissions in September had to wait longer than 12 hours.

The Welsh Government said winter hospital pressures were now year-round, and announced extra funding.

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