Winter pressures compromise performance despite monumental staff efforts

The Welsh NHS Confederation respond to the latest NHS activity and performance statistics for November and December.

18 January 2024

  • In December, more than 95,000 calls were made to the 111 helpline service, an increase of around 24,500 calls compared to the previous month. Of these, just over 78,150 calls (82.2%) were answered, the highest figure on record.  
  • In December there were 5,411 red (life threatening) calls to the ambulance service, 14.3% of all calls. An average of 175 immediately life-threatening calls were made each day, 19 more than in November, and the second highest on record.  
  • In November the overall number of patient pathways waiting to start treatment decreased from just under 764,500 to just over 758,800.  
  • About 24,800 pathways were waiting more than two years, 64.8% lower than the peak and continuing to fall month on month. 

Responding to the NHS activity and performance statistics for November and December, a Welsh NHS Confederation spokesperson said: 

“As is expected in the winter months, there are areas where health and care services struggled to keep up with demand. We know, for example, that levels of flu, Covid, RSV, norovirus and other winter ailments pile pressure on already overstretched services. 

“It’s positive to see a decrease in the overall number of patient pathways in November after consecutive months of increases, alongside the longest waiters continuing to fall. 

“The number of red (immediately life-threatening) calls to the ambulance service in December, and the proportion of these of all calls, remains consistently high. The gradual rise in red calls in recent years shows the high level of acuity of patients’ needs, which has a significant impact on the pressure on services. 

“Despite cancer performance seeming to worsen slightly in November compared to October, like the rest of the service, we still saw some of the highest levels of activity on record, illustrating staff efforts to tackle high levels of demand. 

“What’s clear from these figures is that, despite NHS leaders planning all year for the difficult winter months and ramping up levels of activity, the NHS is unable to keep pace with the significant levels of demand from the higher acuity of patients’ conditions in winter in particular, with the resource available.  

“In the long-term, unless we collectively tackle demand – that is, all sectors and government departments doing all they can to support the population’s health and wellbeing – and bolster social care services in order to improve patient flow through the system, the sustainability of health and care services will be at risk.”