Wales NHS Resolutions for the New Year

Russell George MS is the Welsh Conservative Shadow Health Minister

With this being my last column of 2022, I think it may be wise to look back at the NHS this year and what the next has in store for us. Sadly, 2022 may very well go down on record as the NHS’s worst year, at least in Labour-run Wales.

The latest figures reveal that over three-quarters of a million people are waiting for NHS treatment, up by 74,000 in the space of one year. 1-in-4 of those on a waiting list are waiting over year – a proportion that hasn’t gone budged for well over a year.

The Labour Government like to highlight that the number of those waiting over two years peaked in March and has fallen month-on-month since. What they fail to mention is that was a peak of an astronomical of 70,417 in March and is 57,284 now. NHS Wales aims to get rid of two-year waits by March but current trends suggest this won’t even be achieved until 2024.

This is shocking when the English peak never reached 30,000 and such waits were eliminated quickly after. NHS England is now focussed on ending 18+ month waits by April next year. Are we in Wales to settle for inferior progress to fellow Brits?

In addition to a treatment backlog increasing every month, 2022 saw Wales beat its own records for the worst A&E waits and ambulance response times on record.

Over half of red-call ambulances are taking longer than the eight-minute target to reach their patients. Meanwhile, two-thirds of amber call patients – which include strokes – took over an hour to reach.

Whilst these are just figures for the latest month, the numbers aren’t usually that different. The target of 65% of red-calls reaching their patient within eight minutes has not been reached for over two years and at least 6-in-10 amber calls regularly take over an hour to be reached.

Wales has also retained its title for another year of having the longest A&E waits in Britain. A third of patients had to wait over the four-hour target to be seen in October. Over 10,000 patients wait over 12 hours in Welsh hospitals on a monthly basis.

These figures point to an NHS stuck chasing its tail and a government unable to get a grip on the very real issues that face patients and staff. All of this has real life consequences for patients.

Imagine being stuck on an NHS waiting list for months if not years. This means living with that condition far longer than they should be, limiting your quality of life. It may prevent you from working and earning money when the cost-of-living is on the rise. This is a cost-of-pain crisis.

All of this is compounded by what NHS leaders have called a social care crisis where up to 1,500 people are stuck in bed, healthy enough to be discharged but have no care setting in which to go. Hospitals that cannot discharge healthy patients lead to bed blocking, overcrowded A&Es, and slow ambulances that are stuck outside emergency departments unable to hand over patients.

And while this is unpleasant for patients, imagine having to work tirelessly for hours on end in the middle of all this. While the Royal College of Nursing’s dispute is over pay, it is hardly surprising they are striking when their working conditions sound like a warzone.

It is shocking in my mind that Labour’s Health Minister Baroness Morgan has still not met with the RCN to negotiate pay. Is it any wonder nurses are fleeing the NHS? That exodus has already meant the number of nurse vacancies going up by 1,200 in just one year, resulting in £133.4m being spent on agency nurses, up 41% in 12 months.

Whilst this can feel like being bombarded with numbers, it is important to show you the scale of the systemic failure that poses a huge threat to our public services. Only last week, I was reading the account of a woman who spent nearly a day in A&E with their 87 year-old mother in A&E waiting to be seen with suspected sepsis. I know people who are scared of getting ill because they are in Wales.

I don’t want to think about what 2023 would be bring because I cannot be optimistic. The NHS’s ability to deliver healthcare stands upon the edge of a knife. So, I think it’s better I detail what the Minister should do.

First, get those surgical hubs rolled out which we’ve been calling for since 2020. There are 141 in England already or on the way. They’ve helped massively in alleviating those two-year waits for treatment.

Second, look at our GP Action Plan, our NHS Tech Bundle, and Winter War Room calls – these are programmes from 2022 that lift best practice from other parts of the UK that could help level up NHS Wales's performance with them.

Third, get round the table with the RCN and negotiate. Money may be tight but at least talk about working conditions so nurses don’t hate the very idea of going into work.

Finally, get Mark Drakeford to drop vanity projects like the tourism tax, default 20mph speed limits that will cost the Welsh economy £4.5bn, and the creation of 36 more Cardiff Bay politicians for £100m, and focus on the NHS. Faced with constituents who are angry about getting quality healthcare, I don’t think saying progress is being made on these will be an excusable defence.

Hopefully, the Labour Government can split these new year resolutions between them.

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Team @ AberdareOnline

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