Welsh Government has handed Betsi Cadwaladr health board £20m to help cut patient lists, with more than 40,000 people waiting in excess of a year for treatment.
The cash will be used to fund extra clinics at weekends, send some patients to English hospitals and to pay the private sector to treat them, said Professor Arpan Guha, the board’s acting medical director.
The cash, announced by new health and social care minister Eluned Morgan, is the health board’s share of £100m given to boards across Wales to try to get waiting lists reduced.
Professor Guha said many services had recommenced from April this year.
He added: “Due to social distancing and infection control measures, some services remain at a lower capacity than previously.
“The £20m funding from Welsh Government will help us to undertake further initiatives to treat longer waiting patients with a particular focus on those who have waited over a year for their procedure.
“We are engaging with clinical teams to undertake extra activity during the evenings and weekends and using the independent sector within North Wales and the north-west of England.”
Conservative MS for Clwyd-West Darren Millar called the £20m “a drop in the ocean and is at least £2.2 million short”.
Plaid Cymru’s Rhun ap Iorwerth MS said returning to a “pre-pandemic normal” wasn’t good enough and called for an “ambitious recovery plan, which puts NHS Wales in a better position than we were at the start of the pandemic”.
The Royal College of Surgeons said the “waiting list backlog must be a priority for the new Health Minister and Welsh Government”.
Mr Richard Johnson, director in Wales of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said: “We have been calling on Welsh Government and NHS Wales to implement Covid ‘light’ sites or the ‘surgical hub’ model across Wales, to help reduce elective waiting times and ensure surgical patients can be treated safely.
“This is the best way we can keep treating people who need operations, regardless of future pandemics and winter pressures. However, it requires being open to doing things differently.”
BMA Cymru Wales chair Dr David Bailey said he “welcomed” the news but called it “the tip of the iceberg” and called for “proper recognition” and “adequate rest facilities for his members”.
He added: “We want to be clear treating such a significant number of patients (17% of the population and rising) will take years and the pandemic will leave a lasting legacy requiring unprecedented levels of funding for NHS care in Wales.”
Some of the specialities where Betsi Cadwaladr patients have been waiting longest are orthopaedics, general surgery, urology, ophthalmology and gynaecology.
Patients will be prioritised on clinical need rather than how long they’ve been waiting, said the board.
In March Betsi’s new CEO, Jo Whitehead, revealed she wanted temporary units to help drive down the backlog of patients.
She said: “We are having discussions about mobile facilities which we are looking at dropping into our acute sites.
“That additional physical theatre, bed and diagnostic capacity will help us to try and catch up on our backlog.
“We’re expecting those temporary facilities to be available during the summer months.”