FEWER patients are waiting more than 36 weeks for treatment in Gwent than in any other part of Wales that has an acute hospital, according to the latest figures.

But after going for more than a year without a patient being on a waiting list for longer than 36 weeks, Aneurin Bevan Health Board has had people waiting over 36 weeks in four of the five months to September inclusive.

And that appears to be a consequence of rising numbers of patients in Gwent in the 26-36 week waiting time category.

Wales-wide, waiting times of longer than 36 weeks fell to around 1,600 at the end of March, but by the end of September that figure had doubled.

Three health boards providing acute services - Aneurin Bevan, Betsi Cadwaladr and Hywel Dda - had eliminated waits over 36 weeks by the end of March, but all have since risen, though that for the Gwent area covered by Aneurin Bevan Health Board has been the smallest and the most recent.

Two years ago, rapidly rising numbers of long waits in orthopaedics in Gwent hospitals prompted the then health minister Edwina Hart to place the department in special measures.

During 2011/12 the health board determined to keep all treatment waits below 36 weeks, an aim that succeeded.

That has not proved possible to maintain so far during 2012/13, though compared to the 1,960 patients in Cardiff waiting more than 36 weeks, Gwent is still performing well.

Despite high demand, orthopaedics had no patients waiting more than 36 weeks at the end of September.

Of the 37 waiting longer than 36 weeks, 17 were in diagnostics, and eight in ENT (ear, nose and throat), with the remaining 12 spread across ophthalmology, oral surgery, general surgery, and gastroenterology.

Hospitals face a challenge if the numbers of 36-week plus waits are to be kept down, with 26-36 week waits rising by a quarter Wales-wide during July-September.

And compared to September last year 26-36 week waits in Gwent have more than doubled, from 4,160 to 9,422.