Waiting Lists in the Welsh NHS

1. Questions to the First Minister – in the Senedd at on 18 June 2024.

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Photo of Sam Rowlands Sam Rowlands Conservative

(Translated)

2. Will the First Minister provide an update on waiting lists in the Welsh NHS? OQ61278

Photo of Vaughan Gething Vaughan Gething Labour 1:39, 18 June 2024

Yes. This Government is committed to reducing the length of time that people are waiting for treatment. Since March 2022, pathways for two-year-long waiters have reduced by 71 per cent. The average wait for planned care treatment is now 22 weeks.

Photo of Sam Rowlands Sam Rowlands Conservative

Thank you for your response, First Minister. Deputy Presiding Officer, the First Minister will know that the most recent waiting lists show numbers increasing in Wales to the highest level on record for people seeking treatments. In addition, Wales, sadly, has the longest waits for treatments in the UK, with over 20,000 patients still waiting over two years for the treatment that they need. And these numbers, of course, come after a quarter of a century of Labour running the Welsh Government and Labour running health services here in Wales. So, First Minister, what does this say about Labour's approach to running the NHS?

Photo of Vaughan Gething Vaughan Gething Labour 1:40, 18 June 2024

Actually, what we've seen is that, over the last couple of years, we have seen waits come down. There are significant challenges that every NHS in the UK faces following the pandemic. We know that we do have a challenge to meet, and the longer term trend shows those lists are coming down. It was obviously disappointing that in the last month there was a moderate rise in the numbers who were waiting. But it is still the case that the trends are for those long waits to reduce. It's also a matter, of course, that, as well as the reform and the transformation that we need to see in the way that health and social care services are delivered, this is also partly about resources. We've made choices within our budgets to put significant additional resource into the health service—a 4 per cent uplift. We also know that, for the demand coming into the service, we need to do even more. It's why the choice on 4 July matters. If there are to be more resources coming into public services, it will make a difference about the people we can have to do the work that is required, in addition to the transformation of the way that our services work. That's why the health Secretary has looked at, for example, the regonalisation programme and having significant and protected planned care activity. All of those things make a difference. It is more than one thing. I believe, with different partners across the UK who recognise the need to properly invest in the funding of our health and social care system, we can deliver an even better service and we can get on top of the waits that I recognise need to be undertaken here in Wales.

Photo of Vikki Howells Vikki Howells Labour 1:41, 18 June 2024

First Minister, I am aware of two standout NHS projects in south Wales that are working hard to drive down waiting lists. The first is the diagnostic and treatment hub at Llantrisant, which opened just two months ago with a mobile MRI scanner. A few weeks ago in this Chamber, I reported that they'd already seen over 200 patients. But the latest data shows that, in a matter of weeks, this has now doubled to over 400 patients going through its doors. The second is a scheme to blitz cataract waiting times, which we know increased as a result of the essential reprioritisation of services during COVID. Now, this scheme has ensured that all three-year cataract waits were treated by the end of March this year, and it's now working towards zero patients waiting over two years by the end of this calendar year. What these two projects have in common is that they are examples of regional working. So, First Minister, would you agree with me that regional working by health boards is key to driving down waiting times?

Photo of Vaughan Gething Vaughan Gething Labour 1:42, 18 June 2024

It is absolutely an essential part of how we do drive down waits for all of our constituents. If you look at the programme we've been trying to undertake before the pandemic and afterwards, you can't go back into a world where the specialisation that is required gets turned off. We need to protect that planned care activity away from emergency sites. And that's why the Cabinet Secretary for health has been investing in those services, with real money, as well as making sure organisations agree on how to do that together. And that, often, is the biggest challenge in our delivery. Lots of front-line clinicians want to work in a different way. Getting different organisations to agree how to do that takes more time. But the two examples that you have given are good examples of where that's happened. It's been supported by this Government, and it's a model we want to carry on investing in because we understand it will deliver better care and faster care for all of our constituents. But it shows this is a path we want to carry on investing in, and I'm confident it will make the difference that Vikki Howells already set out for some of her constituents and others right across south-east Wales. 

Photo of Carolyn Thomas Carolyn Thomas Labour 1:43, 18 June 2024

I welcome that much has been done in north Wales with the limited funding, with the extension of minor injury units in our community hospitals, a new orthopaedic hub that's being built this year, and we've got the medical school in north Wales. But it's important to recognise that waiting lists are increasing in England now and that our NHS across the whole of the UK needs adequate funding if it is to survive. Prior to 2010, under UK Labour, funding for the NHS rose in line with need, at 5.4 per cent each year, with waiting lists far lower than they are now. But in a decade of austerity under the Tories, up to the pandemic, this dropped significantly and included four years in which spending per head actually fell in the NHS, causing stagnation in investment. So, a failure to invest in buildings, technology and the workforce has built up, causing long-term problems. We cannot let our NHS fail. Would the First Minister agree that the UK Government has been continually asking the NHS to do more with less so that it now spends less on healthcare than other developed countries? Thanks to their decade of decline, we need to actually do something now to invest in it going forward.

Photo of Vaughan Gething Vaughan Gething Labour 1:45, 18 June 2024

The Member is right to point out the undeniable impact of 14 years of austerity. You can't avoid the reality of those choices by the UK Government to remove funding—not just the impact it's had on the health service with unprotected areas, but all the other parts of public spend that have a direct impact on demand in the health service—[Interruption.]

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour

First Minister, I would like to listen to the questions and I would like to listen to the answers. There are too many Members in the Chamber who want to communicate between each other, rather than listening to the respondents. Please can we give the First Minister time to respond? Others will have a chance to ask questions when I call them.

Photo of Vaughan Gething Vaughan Gething Labour

Thank you. It's also undeniably true that, during the last period of a UK Labour Government, health spend rose significantly faster than it has done with Conservative leadership across the UK. That has real consequences for the choices that we are able to make. Despite that, in our last budget, we invested more than 4 per cent of additional funding here for NHS Wales. That compares to less than 1 per cent in England. Even with a £700 million reduction in the real-terms value of our budget, we continue to prioritise the national health service. I believe, with different leadership across the UK to undo the 14 years of Conservative chaos, we can do even more for our national health service here in Wales. The Member correctly highlights that a difference at a UK level will make a difference to what we are able to do here in Wales.