Reducing the NHS waiting list backlog

Published 21/03/2024   |   Reading Time minutes

The Welsh Government published its programme for transforming and modernising planned care and reducing waiting lists in Wales in April 2022.

Backlogs in routine care have inevitably built up during the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in long waits for diagnostics and treatment.

The Welsh Government says it is determined to make the best possible use of additional investment to increase capacity, accelerate progress and build a health and social care system for the long term.

The Welsh Government says addressing backlogs in routine care cannot happen overnight. It has set out its commitment to reducing waiting lists through five key ambitions. Our article looks at what the Welsh Government’s ambitions are and current performance against them.

Are the Welsh Government going to reach their ambitions?

Data on NHS waiting times are published every month on StatsWales. The data show the number of patient pathways rather than the number of patients and one patient can be on several pathways. Each pathway covers the time from referral by a GP or other medical practitioner to hospital for treatment in the NHS in Wales. This includes time spent waiting for hospital appointments, tests, scans or other procedures that may be needed before treatment.

The data shows the number of patient pathways waiting longer than 53 weeks rather than longer than one year and the number of people waiting longer than 105 weeks rather than longer than two years. The graphs below show data from January 2020 to the latest available.

Click on the boxes to see other ambitions

Ambition 1: No one waiting longer than a year for their first outpatient appointment by the end of 2022

In January 2024, 57,754 patient pathways were waiting over 53 weeks (more than a year) for their first out-patient appointment.

Graph showing the number of patient pathways waiting over 53 weeks increased from 1,115 in January 2020 to 57,754 in January 2024. Against an ambition of zero by the end of 2022.

Source: StatsWales, Patient pathways waiting to start treatment by month, grouped weeks and stage of pathway

Further information on the current waiting times backlog and why tackling it is one of the biggest challenges for the Welsh NHS can be found in our article ‘Access delayed: the waiting times backlog in NHS Wales’.

Article by Sarah Hatherley, Helen Jones and Joe Wilkes, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament