THE backlog of patients waiting for treatment continues to soar in the Swansea Bay Health Board area, but health chiefs insist that priority cases are being dealt with.

The number of patients waiting more than 36 weeks for treatment stood at 22,453 at the end of August, compared to 3,263 at the same time last year.

A number of hospital services are up and running again after being suspended due to the coronavirus crisis earlier in the year, but waiting times have lengthened.

For a while, the health board used outpatient and theatre capacity at Swansea’s HMT Sancta Maria Hospital. However, it said the private hospital was unsuitable for many patients with high clinical needs.

On the plus side, cancer services are said to be holding up well, and ambulance handovers at the hospital of more than one hour are lower than they were at this time last year.

Referring to the treatment waiting times, Darren Griffiths, the health board’s director of finance and performance, said:

“Clearly this is not something any of us would have wanted and we are extremely conscious of the potential consequences for patients.

“Since the start of the pandemic, we have continued to care for those requiring urgent treatment.”

Many services have been reintroduced, he said, often with changes to protect patients and staff.

Mr Giffiths added:

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“The health board did utilise outpatient and theatre capacity at HMT Sancta Maria Hospital from April until the end of June.

“However, our priority for surgery were those patients with the highest clinical need.

“Many of these were unsuitable for surgery at Sancta Maria because the facilities available did not meet the clinical needs of the patients.

“As a result, the decision was taken not to extend the contract at that time.”

The ongoing pandemic, he said, had caused huge disruption to NHS services in Swansea Bay and across the UK.

Mr Griffiths described cancer care performance as “very strong” at a health board meeting last week.

Draft figures for August indicate that 87% of urgent cancer patients are receiving treatment within 62 days.

But hospital-acquired infections rose significantly in August compared to the previous month, demand for unscheduled care is increasing, and 12-hour accident and emergency waits have also increased.

Patient feedback in August was positive, with 81% of 625 surveyed saying they’d recommend the overall service to friends and family. This percentage was, however, lower than the previous four months.

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