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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 January, 2005, 13:51 GMT
Drop in hospital waiting times
Dr Brian Gibbons and a patient at the Princess of Wales Hospital, Bridgend, on Wednesday

Hospital waiting times in Wales fell in the final three months of last year.

The number waiting over 18 months for a hospital appointment fell almost 500 to 678 and the 12-month wait dropped from 8,188 to 6,293.

New health minister Brian Gibbons said the gap with England was closing.

But Tories said waiting lists rose 83% during his predecessor Jane Hutt's five years in the job, and Liberal Democrats said there was still a rise in the wait for a first outpatient appointment.

They are the final figures from Jane Hutt's term as Welsh health minister. She was replaced two weeks ago, and was criticised by Labour MPs and opposition AMs, particularly over waiting lists.

Her successor Dr Gibbons, on a visit to the Princess of Wales Hospital in Bridgend, welcomed the fall.

"At the moment half of all people in England wait for seven weeks for an operation," said Dr Gibbons.

"In Wales it is 11 weeks. This shows that there is some work to do, but we are not as far behind as people might think."
I am determined to focus on the length of time people are waiting for treatment rather than the numbers waitin
Health minister Brian Gibbons

The minister said the past year "has seen great progress made in tackling long waiting times in Wales."

"Patients in Wales are starting to receive the treatment they need much faster.

"This shows that the hard work and initiatives such as the second offer scheme are working and are having a significant impact on waiting times.

Dr Gibbons said in target areas such as cataract surgery the number of people waiting over four months fell by 910 to just 25.

Since April 2003 the second offer scheme whereby patients are offered alternative treatment in England if they face waits of more than 18 months has handled almost 3,000 patients said .

Dr Brian Gibbons
Dr Brian Gibbons has said lessons need to be learnt from England

Last month former health minister Ms Hutt announced the second offer guarantee was being extended to patients reaching 12 months on the waiting list.

'Castigated'

Dr Gibbons said: "I am determined to focus on the length of time people are waiting for treatment rather than the numbers waiting.

Unfortunately, we have seen nothing from Hutt's replacement that leads us to believe things will get any better
Conservative Jonathan Morgan
"With our targets reduced to 12 months for both outpatients and inpatients by March 2006, we are taking steps forward to eradicate long waits in Wales." Fall in waiting times shows NHS in Wales has turned the corner

Welsh NHS Confederation director Mike Ponton said: "These figures show that we have turned a corner and are starting to see real improvements in waiting times across Wales.

"There is still a lot to do, but the hard work of our members is helping to bring down the times that patients have to wait for treatment".

Plaid Cymru's Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM welcomed the fall but said Welsh patients still had to wait longer than in England.

"It is not a success when the amount of people waiting in pain in Wales in the 21st century is 308,221. It is apparent that Rhodri Morgan's government has given up on outpatients in the last month alone the figure has risen by 2279 to 237,575 patients waiting for their first appointment."

The Conservatives said waiting lists have risen a total of 83% in the five years Jane Hutt was health minister.

Tory health spokesman Jonathan Morgan said: "The Labour-led assembly government's stewardship on the health service has now been castigated by just about every watchdog, professional body and political group including their own.

"Unfortunately, we have seen nothing from Hutt's replacement that leads us to believe things will get any better.

Liberal Democrat Kirsty Williams said the drop in the wait for in-patient treatment had been "completely offset by the increase in those awaiting a first outpatient appointment".

"Since December 2003 the total number of people waiting has gone up from 307,608 to 308,221," said Ms Williams.

"The drop in the number waiting for in-patient treatment has been completely offset by the increase in those awaiting a first outpatient appointment".



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