AN action plan designed to eliminate treatment waiting times of more than 36 weeks for Gwent patients has fallen 240 operations behind schedule, according to the latest figures.

By the end of October, health board bosses had hoped to have reduced the number of people who had waited more than 36 weeks for treatment in Gwent hospitals - following referral by their GP - to 1,473, in line with an action plan approved only in September.

But referral to treatment (RTT) waiting times figures, just released, show that by October 31, 1,713 patients had been waiting longer than 36 weeks.

The key problem is with trauma and orthopaedics, where the number of people waiting longer than 36 weeks by the end of October had reached 461, more than double that planned by that stage.

Ophthalmology is also behind its schedule, with 127 people having waited longer than 36 weeks at October 31, compared to the planned 46.

General surgery, ENT (ear, nose and throat), and gynaecology are also slightly behind their plan figures, but there are some specialities that are ahead of schedule.

The best performing is urology, which at October 31 was 64 cases fewer than planned, while oral surgery and restorative dentistry were 18 cases each better off. remaining specialties grouped together were 30 cases better off.

There is room for manoeuvre in orthopaedics, as it had been planned to eliminate waits of more than 36 weeks in this specialty by the end of November.

Similarly, the backlog of longer waits in ophthalmology should have been sorted out by the end of October.

But though Aneurin Bevan University Health Board has some leeway with these and other specialities the winter period usually brings an increase in demand and more pressure on surgical beds.

Even though an extra 125 beds can be opened if neededa challenging winter could see operations cancelled again.

There were 375 operations called off during January-March this year, and anything approaching even half that this time around will make the task of eliminating waits of longer than 36 weeks by March 31 next year extremely difficult.