Welsh NHS patients still waiting longer than in England

By Nick Servini
Political editor, Wales

media captionMargaret Brazier had her hip replacement operation cancelled four times

Waiting times in the Welsh NHS continue to lag behind the health service in England in most key categories for treatment and diagnosis, according to the latest statistics.

Directly comparable figures show the biggest gap was in the wait for hip operations, up by a fifth in 2015-16.

The average wait for hip operations in England was 76 days while in Wales it was 226 days.

But waiting times in Wales for heart by-pass surgery fell significantly.

In 2014-15 the average wait in Wales was 111 days. It fell to 43 days in 2015-16.

Overall, there were significantly longer waits in Wales in seven out of the 11 main indicators measured in Wales compared to the same indicators measured in England.

Waiting times in Wales for the treatment of cataracts and hernias were around two months longer than in England in 2015-16.

Waits for stomach operations were 11 days longer, while waits for the diagnosis for pneumonia were nearly a fortnight longer and diagnosis of heart disease was eight days longer.

But there was a 20% increase in the wait in Wales for other heart operations, which do not include by-pass surgery, compared to the previous year.

There were minimal or no differences in the waits for the diagnosis of cancer and head injuries.

There were shorter waits in Wales than in England for heart by-pass and kidney surgery.


  • Cataract average wait Wales: 107 days, England: 58 days
  • Upper digestive tract Wales: 32 days, England: 21 days
  • Heart bypass Wales: 43 days, England: 52 days
  • Heart operations Wales: 48 days, England: 40 days
  • Hip Wales: 226 days, England: 76 days
  • Kidney transplant Wales: 16 days, England 20 days


  • Cancer Wales: 21 days, England: 20 days
  • Heart disease Wales: 46 days, England: 38 days
  • Pneumonia Wales: 63 days, England: 51 days
  • Hernia Wales: 120 days, England: 43 days
  • Head injuries Wales: 5 days, England: 5 days

Source: Patient Episode Database for Wales/ Hospital Episode Statistics

Tim Havard, a director of the Royal College of Surgeons in Wales, said it was "disappointing" that Wales lagged behind England but Wales' population was on average sicker and older than England's.

"There continues to be a need to prevent ill-health, especially through tackling the higher rates of obesity in Wales," he said.

"However it is encouraging to see significant progress in reducing waiting times for heart by-pass operations in Wales.

"Many of the causes of longer waiting times are complex and will not be solved overnight, but this shows that when focus is given to reducing waiting times the NHS can improve access to care."

image captionTim Havard said the statistics showed the pressure the NHS in Wales and England were under

Welsh Conservative health spokeswoman Angela Burns said the wait for hip operations in Wales was "scandalous", while cataract patients were "literally going blind while they wait for a simple corrective procedure".

She urged ministers to pursue a "decisive, innovative and target-led strategy informed by science and the expertise of professional bodies in order to address the perennial issues that hold our health service back".

Plaid Cymru health spokesman Rhun ap Iorwerth accused Labour ministers of "complacency and denial, pretending that waiting times are trivial and don't matter to patient outcomes".

He said paying private companies to carry out cardiac surgery had shown that tackling waiting times "can be done if there is the will to do so".

A Welsh Government spokesman said the number of people across Wales waiting over nine months for treatment had reduced by a fifth in 2016.

"We are pleased to see the big improvement in waiting times for heart by-pass, and the improvements seen in other areas, such as cataracts and kidney transplant," he said.

"We recognise there are areas where further improvements are required and have launched the Planned Care Programme to improve patient experience and deliver a strategic and sustainable approach to planned care in Wales."

Nick Servini's analysis

These figures did not look good when we first published them a year ago, and the latest ones do not look much better now.

I suspect that behind the scenes, Welsh Government ministers will feel more confident this time around dealing with cross-border comparisons in light of the well-documented problems in the English NHS.

There has been a bitter strike by junior doctors as well as accusations that English health trusts have got themselves into financial difficulty by clearing their backlogs.

And of course there is the perennial problem of dealing with winter pressures on either side of Offa's Dyke, which kick-start a chain reaction that shows itself in the waiting times for planned surgery.

Nevertheless, none of this will be of particular concern to the 6,000 patients in Wales who last year waited on average three times longer than those in England for a new hip.

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