Published by BBC NEWS - 26th April 2022

Jessica Ricketts

A woman who has been waiting three years for a hysterectomy says she feels she and other women have been pushed to the bottom of the list.

Jessica Ricketts, from Barry, is one of 164,000 patients who have been on various NHS waiting lists for more than a year, compared to less than 7,000 two-years-ago.

But it will take another three years to tackle the backlog.

Welsh government’s plan to tackle long waits is due to be published later.

But for Jessica, she remains in pain with endometriosis despite six gynaecological surgeries over the past 10 years and is now waiting for the hysterectomy.

“Every day there’s some sort of pain and I’m in pain right now,” she told BBC Radio Wales Breakfast.

“My fear is that the endometriosis – because obviously I’m just waiting – is now in my diaphragm, and so I get pain on my left side.

“With every day almost, which used to just be cyclical and now it’s gone a lot worse.”

Jessica said she was admitted to hospital two weeks ago because she was in so much pain, and she spends her life “trying to manage the symptoms”.

“Obviously women’s health is at the very bottom of this huge list that we have,” she added.

Asked if she felt forgotten, she replied: “Yes, definitely.”

Jessica said the waiting and having hormonal treatments while she is waiting has had a huge impact on her mental health.

“It’s trying to decide which is worse. Do you take the hormones to try and suppress the symptoms and then get the mental health symptoms or do you not to take the hormones and deal with pain?

“And for me, I find dealing with pain, a bit more manageable.”

Jessica is keen to see what the Welsh government’s plan to cut waiting times is, but she believes women’s health “seems to be at the very bottom of the pile”.

She added: “I think it’s even more important now than ever, to really push the women’s health side of things. We have it takes on average 10 years for a diagnosis of endometriosis.

“As women we have to fight to even get past the GP who is severely under-trained in this department.

“And it’s just seems to be that because we’re women. We’re told that you know, just suck it up really and carry on and it needs to be a fairer system, particularly for the women of Wales and we need to stop pushing it to the bottom of the pile.”

Under the new plans, an extra £60m will be given to health boards over the next four years, bringing the Covid recovery NHS budget to around £1bn.

The plan also sets a target of about a third (35%) of new appointments and half of follow-up appointments to take place virtually in future, freeing up clinicians’ time.

Additional targets will be set out by Wales’ Health Minister Eluned Morgan at midday on Tuesday.

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But Welsh Conservatives have called the plans were “unambitious”, while Plaid Cymru called for focus on prevention.

Patient Cathrin Lloyd-Williams, from Menai Bridge, Gwynedd, 85, has been waiting three years for a new hip.

She went private when her specialist retired.

“It wasn’t a hard decision [to go private] because there was no choice. If there’s five year waits – for goodness sake, I’ll be 90. I might not even care about a new hip or a new knee.”

‘People waiting in despair’

Director of Cymru Versus Arthritis Mary Cowern said the backlog meant people were putting their lives on hold.

“When you wake up every morning in dire pain and have no hope for the future then it’s really difficult for people to live with,” she said.

“People tell us they have four years, five years wait – do they sit and wait for that phone to ring for five years? That’s an agonising wait.”

The health minister has acknowledged hitting waiting time targets would be more challenging in some areas.

Eluned

“Reducing waiting times will require new solutions, more equipment, new facilities and more staff to help diagnose people quickly as part of an effective and efficient planned care service,” said Mrs Morgan.

‘A long time and a lot of hard work’

The plans will also see diagnostic testing done away from traditional hospital settings, in primary and community care settings.

Two community diagnostic centres are due to be developed this year, with plans for more by the end of this Senedd term.

“Unfortunately waiting times and waiting lists have grown during the pandemic and will take a long time and a lot of hard work,” the health minister added.

“We are committed to working with our fantastic NHS to ensure no-one waits longer than a year for treatment in most specialities by spring 2025.”

Clinical director for planned care at Hywel Dda health board Ken Harris said building work on two new specialist day-surgery facilities is due to finish soon.

Ken Harris

Mr Harris has said that prior to the pandemic the health board was set to meet national targets, but the pandemic “dismantled” that, leaving them with large waiting lists.

“About 75% of patients waiting for surgery can go through a day surgical route, so a facility like this will have a significant impact on a large number of patients who are currently waiting for surgery,” he said.

‘The end of an era’

He added that general surgeries such as hernias, gallstones, gynae and urology will be carried out at these facilities, as well as some orthopaedic operations.

“It’s not the end of the health service, but we are looking at the end of an era,” he said, adding: “We’re not looking back at the normal nine-to-five, Monday to Friday that maybe we did before the pandemic.

“We’re looking at extended days, six or seven-day working so we can maximise the efficiency – but obviously how we can achieve that is largely dependent on how we can recruit and retain staff.

“There are significant problems with recruiting, retaining and maintaining staff.”

Associate director of the Royal College of Nursing in Wales Nicky Hughes said: “We know there are lots of people in need and we know that over the pandemic those needs have got worse and people are living their lives in pain.

“We’re seeing lots of money being pledged but what we’re not seeing is how that’s going to be achieved.”

‘Nurses in poverty’

She added: “We’ve still got over 1,700 vacancies and we don’t see that increasing or decreasing at the moment it just seems to be static.

“We also know that people are exhausted and burnt out and some people have chosen to leave the profession.

“We’ve got nurses who are living in poverty – they’re the only breadwinner in the family, so pay is an issue.”

Welsh Conservative MS Russell George, the shadow health minister, said: “Labour’s mismanagement of our NHS predates the COVID-19 with waiting times doubling in the year before the pandemic.

“For years, Welsh Conservatives have been calling on the Labour government in Cardiff Bay to tackle the crisis in our NHS.

“We need to be assured that this plan is more than just a sticking plaster to cover deep rooted issues.”

Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson for health and care Rhun ap Iorwerth MS said: “What the NHS in Wales needs is a plan that looks at every aspect of the patient journey through the health and care sector.

“This has to start with increased focus on prevention, to reduce the number of people who are seeking health care in the first place.

“It’s also not clear if government are taking any additional steps to address the severely depleted workforce across health and care.

“The fact that new targets are to be set is welcome, but we’ll have to assess the level of ambition and firmly hold the government to account to ensure targets are met.”

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