In the Senedd, the Minister for Health and Social services, Eluned Morgan MS in introducing the Welsh Government’s Planned Care Recovery Plan described the impact that the Covid pandemic has had on the health service in Wales.
“The pandemic has brought many changes to the NHS. At the very beginning of the pandemic, we made the difficult decision to cancel planned appointments and treatments to enable staff to focus on caring for all those very sick people with COVID-19. Each subsequent wave of infections has meant that the NHS has had to focus on COVID-19 instead of being able to provide the full and normal mixture of out-patient appointments and planned operations. Services have also had to adapt to the great many infection control procedures and practices, all necessary measures to help keep patients and staff safe. These have also limited how many people can be seen and can receive treatment at any one time.”
Eluned Morgan also made significant promises in introducing the plan:
“By the end of 2022, this year, no-one will wait longer than a year for their first out-patient appointment. By the spring of 2024, we will have increased the speed of diagnostic tests and reporting to eight weeks and to 14 weeks for therapy interventions. By the spring of 2025, no-one will wait more than a year for an operation in most specialties. By 2026, 80 per cent of people who receive a cancer diagnosis should start first definitive treatment within 62 days from the first point when cancer was suspected. We will make sure that those with the greatest need are seen first. But, let me be clear, the task in front of us is huge.”
The Health Minister said:
“As we start to move beyond the emergency response to the pandemic, the NHS is providing more planned care than at any point during the pandemic. But, even today, there are almost 1,400 COVID-19 related patients in hospital beds, although only around 16 per cent of these are being actively treated for COVID. At this level, these pandemic pressures continue to affect the amount and type of planned care that the NHS can provide.164
Before the pandemic, waiting times were steadily falling across Wales. Today, unfortunately, too many people are waiting far too long for treatment, and this is the same situation in every part of the United Kingdom. There are nearly 700,000 open pathways, with many people waiting for more than 52 weeks. These numbers will keep on growing as people rightly continue to come forward to see their GP. It will take a full Senedd term and a lot of hard work to recover from the impact of the pandemic. This is now my priority and it is the health service’s priority.165
The planned care recovery plan is backed by an additional £170 million a year of Welsh Government funding. It will reset and transform planned care services and it’s been developed with clinicians. It sets out a wide range of actions to redesign services and, in many cases, redesign what people can expect from the NHS when they are referred by their GP or another healthcare professional for planned treatment. For those who are already waiting, we’ll ensure there is support in place. For those coming into the system, we will help them to manage their own condition and, wherever appropriate, we’ll provide more treatment alternatives so that surgery isn’t the only option available. We’ll also do more to address inequalities in care.166
I am today making four commitments to people, to help them access the advice and services they need in a timely manner. We’ll increase the capacity of the health services.
There will be better access to doctors, nurses, dentists and other healthcare professionals closer to home, so people receive the right care from the right person.
We’ll prioritise diagnosis and treatment. There’ll be faster access to treatments and diagnostic procedures.
We’ll prioritise people with suspected cancer and other urgent conditions and we’ll prioritise children. Clinicians will work with people to make sure treatment options are the best for them.
We will transform the way that we provide planned care. There will be more care and support available from a wider range of local services and professionals to help people to stay well and to stay at home. We will set up dedicated surgical facilities and will separate planned care from urgent and emergency care, where we can. We will provide better information and support to people, especially those waiting for treatment.
Our NHS faces unrelenting pressures as a result of the pandemic and winter pressures. Our NHS staff are tired from working under enormous pressure over the last two years. In the past 20 years, we’ve increased the number of staff working in the health service in Wales 54 per cent and more, but we need more. We’ve already committed to doing that through funding worth £0.25 billion to train more specialists. We will support the NHS as we ask it to deliver this plan. We will continue to recruit highly skilled staff to join the workforce and we will continue to train the next generation of healthcare workers.
Primary care will have a vital role to play in the success of this plan. We have introduced an e-advice service for GPs, to help them to seek early advice from specialist teams to support decision making and to manage patient care. We will also make broader and better use of the skills and expertise of our dedicated nursing staff and allied health professionals to support people while they wait for their appointments and as they recover from surgery. There are no quick-fix solutions to reducing long waiting times. This will take hard work, it will take the support of people throughout Wales and the NHS, and it will take time to see real and lasting results.”