SOMETHING “radical” will be needed to clear a huge backlog of waiting patients when treatments properly resume in North Wales, a health chief has said.

Geoff Ryall-Harvey, chief officer at the North Wales Community Health Council, said the situation has grown so challenging it is now “beyond the power of any individual health board to recover in any reasonable time.”

The two categories of concern are those who are waiting up to 52 weeks for treatment, and those waiting up to 36 weeks.

Mr Ryall-Harvey said as of November, both categories saw about ten times the average number of people - with about 35,000 or more waiting 52 weeks and around 52,000 waiting 36.

“I have not yet seen the figures for January,” he said.

“But clearly there are now going to be more.

“This is not having a go at Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, but I think we have a big problem coming. It’s everywhere in the UK.

“Normally in Wales when we have big backlogs, health boards can buy provision in England, but that just isn’t going to be an option because they will have their own backlog.

“The director of planning at the health board said it will take many years to get back down.

“I think it’s unacceptable for people to wait that long.

“We need to be back down to normal levels in one or two years, maybe 18 months - not five years, or something like that.

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“The Welsh Government and the local health boards need to work together and come up with something to cut the waiting times going forward, or the health service will end up like it was 30 years ago - and people who remember the NHS in the 80s and 90s will remember that waiting times were a massive feature.

“It will need something radical. I think it will mean prioritising people and getting more capacity from somewhere.”

Professor Arpan Guha, acting executive medical director at Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on planned care and we fully recognise just what a worrying time this is for people waiting for treatment.

“In the short term, we are looking at performing more outpatient appointments and theatres activity over the evenings and weekends, and we have brought in extra capacity for CT, MRI and Ultrasound scans.

“In the longer term, we are developing detailed plans for Diagnostic and Treatment Centres which would provide a platform for the future, enabling us to tackle backlogs, alleviate pressure on our District General Hospitals and treat highly vulnerable patients without interruption from pressures in unscheduled care.”

A Welsh Government spokesman said: “We are proud of the extraordinary way the NHS has supported the response to coronavirus and we know it is willing and able to support plans to address waiting times in a similar way.

“We are developing an NHS Wales recovery plan with specific expectations for planned care where we are looking at local, regional and national approaches to tackling the backlog.

“This could involve the development of treatment centres, such as a cataract centre or an orthopaedic centre, and these could be based to serve a wider geographical area other than just one particular health board.

“Health boards are submitting their plans to us.

“We will also want health boards to continue to change and improve their local services with new ways of working, including changes made during the pandemic response.”