Long term workforce challenges and gaps in capital funding must be addressed by governments to reduce waiting times

Darren Hughes, director of the Welsh NHS Confederation, responds to the Health and Social Care Committee’s report on NHS waiting times

7 April 2022

Responding to the Health and Social Care Committee’s report on NHS waiting times, Darren Hughes, director of the Welsh NHS Confederation, said:

“We welcome the Health and Social Care Committee’s recommendations in its report on NHS waiting times.

“NHS leaders do not underestimate the impact of waiting times for diagnostics and treatment on individuals, their families or carers. The pandemic has severely reduced the service’s productivity and still hinders its ability to recover whilst the backlog for physical and mental health services grows alongside exacerbated challenges in the health social care system, such as workforce supply.

“NHS organisations in Wales have continued to prioritise treatment for patients in the most urgent need. The NHS continues to do everything it can to respond to high expectations and unprecedented demand while also continuing to respond to the pandemic, which is still affecting staffing levels and the need for infection control measures remains. This severely impacts service capacity and flow across the whole of the health and care system, leading to increased waiting times and repercussions for peoples’ health and wellbeing.

“NHS leaders recognise that patients can feel unsupported while on long waiting lists and the absence of information regarding likely waiting time to treatment can exacerbate this. Health boards are working to ensure patients are kept well-informed and supported while they wait, innovating and transforming services to tackle pressures, using new pathways and protocols to deliver delayed planned care services and manage demand.  A number of initiatives are underway to provide greater support for patients to stay well while waiting for treatment and improve transparency about the level of clinical need and the degree of urgency with which they need to receive treatment. Health boards have been engaging with partners and patients to inform these processes.

“The pandemic has had significant ramifications on the health and care workforce, both in terms of their wellbeing in the face of enduring and sustained pressures across the whole system and in terms of workforce capacity. Staff have worked tirelessly to provide the best care possible under exceptionally challenging circumstances and many have reached burnout or are experiencing low morale from being unable to meet demand.

“Long term workforce challenges must be addressed by governments if we are to reduce waiting times and have a health and care service the public deserves - and that politicians continue to promise. We also need certainty around future financial settlements, revenue and capital investments to be able to plan and deliver on the capacity expansion needed to meet demand.”