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NHS in Wales under real pressure, health minister warns

By PA News

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The coronavirus pandemic will continue to have a considerable impact upon the NHS in Wales, the health minister has said.

Vaughan Gething said the health service was battling with a surge in Covid-19 patients while also trying to deal with other serious illnesses.

Mr Gething said the impact of the pandemic would be felt for years to come as the NHS worked to clear rising waiting lists.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

He told the Senedd’s health, social care and sport committee the fastest rising pressure on services was from recovering Covid-19 patients in acute hospital beds and critical care capacity was at 150%.

“The pandemic itself is far from over and will definitely be carried into the year ahead,” Mr Gething said.

“We have this really big challenge of the system potentially overheating and us getting to exactly what I’ve always been most fearful of – the situation we saw in Italy and Spain in the first wave where they really were overwhelmed.”

He told the committee the increased pressures had “very real financial consequences” for the health budget.

“We can’t give you an entirely accurate prediction of all of those choices because it depends on the cost of the pandemic to some extent,” he said.

“We also know that as well as the cost of running Covid-19 care, we also have the cost in human and financial terms of delaying non-Covid-19 care as well.”

Due to the pandemic an additional 169,000 patients are waiting more than 36 weeks for treatment due to reduced capacity, and the backlog is predicted to rise.

Cancer referrals dropped by 70% during the first few weeks of the March 2020 lockdown but have since returned to normal levels.

In the draft health budget for 2021-22, a further £385 million will be invested in the Welsh NHS, taking total revenue funding to over £8.4 billion.

This includes an extra £10 million for Public Health Wales to invest in health protection.

The capital budget will increase by £16 million to £383 million, which includes continued investment in the Prince Charles and Glangwili hospitals.

Mr Gething said the Welsh NHS was sustainable if there were real terms increases in funding combined with 1% annual efficiency savings.

“Frankly during the pandemic we haven’t been able to do that,” he said.

“I’m afraid that uncertainty is a very real feature of what we are all going to have to live with.”

He said there would still be a need for the Welsh Government to fund the provision of vaccination programmes, testing and contact tracing, supplying PPE and the testing of international travellers.

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