Outrage at hip replacement waiting times

Following a complaint from a constituent, who having been referred for her second hip replacement surgery in June 2016, will not under current waiting times, be operated on until August 2018, I decided to contact Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board to find out what is going on, and was outraged to be told that patients in North Wales are having to wait more than two years for hip replacement surgery.

The Chief Executive of the Health Board, Gary Doherty, confirmed in a letter to me that the current routine waiting time for hip replacements in Ysbyty Glan Clwyd is 112 weeks – this is absolutely disgraceful and means that waiting times for this procedure are running more than a year-and-a-half over the Welsh Government’s self-set 26-week referral-to-treatment time target.

According to directly comparable statistics drawn from the NHS Patient Episode Database, hip operations now represent the widest gulf in NHS performance between England and Wales, where the average length in wait for hip operations in England is 76 days compared to 226 days in Wales.

Such a huge delay in treatment has a huge impact on quality of life, and can be costly for the NHS. Research shows that delay can lead to the deterioration of joint tissue, which debilitates patients to the point where they can’t carry out normal everyday activities because of chronic pain and immobility. As with so many other conditions, the earlier the treatment, the better it is for the patients and their recovery and the less money the Welsh NHS will need to spend on managing the condition later on - it’s common sense.

And it is not only patients waiting for hip replacement surgery that are suffering. Figures out at the end of January, show that patients waiting for any kind of orthopaedic surgery are waiting substantially longer than they should be, with waiting times having increased a staggering 5,000%  over a four-year period. In November 2012 the number of patients who waited at least 36 weeks for orthopedic and trauma treatment was 56. However, for the same month last year the number had jumped to 3,052!

It is wrong that so many people in North Wales are currently languishing on orthopedic waiting lists. Many do so in pain, with poor mobility and this has a significant impact on their quality of life. It is no wonder that many of them look in envy at shorter waiting times elsewhere in the UK, or at significant personal expense to the private sector in a bid to shortcut their wait for treatment.

Already in special measures for a catalogue of serious failings, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board must explain how it intends to bring down these waits and the Welsh Labour Government must show the necessary leadership and direction needed to instigate the changes needed. With an ageing society, the situation has the potential to worsen very quickly unless a solution is put into effect soon.

That patients are having to wait over two years for life-changing surgery is totally unacceptable; the people of North Wales deserve better.