Access to healthcare – Welsh Government assessment
A lack of evidence and data separated by protected characteristic means there is an incomplete picture of the barriers specific groups face in accessing healthcare in Wales. However, there is evidence that certain groups experience persistent inequalities and discrimination in accessing services. Waiting times for treatment have not improved significantly in recent years, and the pandemic has made existing delays worse. While the Welsh Government has introduced services to improve access to healthcare for some groups, there is limited evidence of improvements of outcome in access.
- Waiting times have seen little improvement in recent years: similar numbers had to wait more than 26 weeks to start treatment in 2019 compared with 2016, and the number of people waiting more than 36 weeks for hospital treatment almost doubled in the year to December 2019.
- There are concerns about the impact of the pandemic on non-coronavirus healthcare, including delays in cancer treatment leading to a backlog of patients, reductions in the take-up of vaccinations among children, failures to meet the healthcare needs of people with learning disabilities, and difficulties in accessing mental health services.
- The inadequacy of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and testing for health professionals has affected access to healthcare services.
- A lack of data that separates individual protected characteristic makes it difficult to review the disparities in access to healthcare in Wales.
- Migrants, refugees and asylum seekers experience barriers in accessing services, but there is some evidence of good practice in Wales, with links between the asylum system and healthcare providers resulting in continuity of care.
- Women face barriers in accessing reproductive health services, including abortion services and specialist miscarriage care, with women in rural areas and Deaf British Sign Language users experiencing particular challenges.
- While transgender patients in Wales can now access services at the new Welsh Gender Service, delays in opening the clinic have affected waiting lists, with restrictions during the pandemic further increasing waiting times.
- Gypsy, Roma and Traveller populations in Wales experience particular barriers, leading to poor access to healthcare provision.
- Those living in rural areas have to travel longer distances to access services than those in urban areas, and homeless people can face difficulties accessing healthcare treatment.
- A One Year On progress report (2019) notes several achievements in implementing A Healthier Wales, including programmes set up through the Transformation Fund to improve access to local services. However, The Wales Audit Office has noted that change needs to happen more quickly, with the 2020 Future Generations Report noting a number of barriers including increasing demand for services.
- While the Welsh Government’s healthcare policies for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller populations, and migrants, refugees and asylum seekers include a number of targeted actions, little information is available about progress in implementing actions or any evaluation of impact.
Read more about the UK and Welsh Governments’ actions on access to healthcare.