An ambitious plan to transform planned care in Wales and cut waiting times over the next four years was yesterday published by Health Minister Eluned Morgan.
It will be supported by an extra 60m - 15m a year over the next four years - for health boards. The Welsh Government has now committed more than 1bn this Senedd term to help the NHS recover from the pandemic.
The plan, which was published at 12.00 yesterday, has been designed to help the NHS manage the backlog of appointments and treatments, which has built up during the pandemic and reduce waiting times for people with non-urgent health conditions.
The Health Minister said the plan aims to ensure no one will be waiting more than a year for treatment in most specialties by Spring 2025.
A series of stretching targets for health boards will be set out in the plan. Waiting times and waiting lists for planned care - routine referrals and non-emergency care - have been hugely affected by the pandemic across the UK.
At the start of the pandemic, the majority of appointments and treatments were postponed to enable the NHS to focus on caring for the large number of people with Covid-19. Subsequent waves of coronavirus infections have also affected activity levels in the NHS.
Rigorous but necessary infection control measures in the NHS, especially in hospitals, have transformed the way services are delivered and have reduced the number of planned appointments and surgeries which can be performed.
Minister for Health and Social Services Eluned Morgan yesterday said:
We need a determined effort to ensure people waiting for appointments and treatment are seen as quickly as possible and in order of clinical priority. We are committing 1bn this Senedd term to help the NHS recover from the pandemic and to treat people as quickly as possible.
Reducing waiting times will require new solutions, more equipment, new facilities and more staff to help diagnose people quickly as part of an effective and efficient planned care service. This plan sets out how we will transform planned care so the most urgent cases are prioritised.
Unfortunately waiting times and waiting lists have grown during the pandemic and will take a long time and a lot of hard work to do but we are committed to working with our fantastic NHS to ensure no one waits longer than a year for treatment in most specialities by spring 2025.
Together with reducing waiting times, we also want to help people understand and manage their conditions and to feel supported while they are waiting for treatment.
This is a big task - but it is our focus for the rest of this term.
As Wales moves beyond the emergency response to the pandemic, the way the NHS delivers some care has changed - people will only need to go into hospital when they need care, advice or services, which cannot be delivered as close to their home as possible.
The plan builds on these changes and sets the goal of 35% of all new appointments and 50% of follow-up appointments being delivered virtually in future. This will help to free up clinicians' time so they can see and treat more patients.
Another key element of the plan is delivering more diagnostic tests outside hospitals and closer to people's homes in primary and community care settings. This will save time. Plans for two community diagnostic centres will be developed this year, with more to follow by the end of this Senedd term.
An online website will be created where patients can get the information and support to manage their own conditions, helping people to manage their own health and reducing the number who need to be readmitted to hospital for treatment.
Examples of how this funding has been used already to reduce waiting times includes:
- 19.937m for two new operating theatres at Prince Phillip Hospital, in Llanelli, which will treat an additional 4,600 people a year;
- 2.2m for Swansea Bay University Health Board for the Singleton Day Surgery Unit, which will treat an additional 3,000 cataract patients a year;
- 1.034m for trauma and orthopaedics at Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, to treat an extra 3,650 people;
- 827,000 for Cardiff and Vale University Health Board's mobile endoscopy units to treat an additional 600 people;
- 1.389m for two vanguard theatres at Cardiff and Vale University Health Board which will see between 3,900 and 4,500 people a year.