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Father tells of ‘worst scenario’ with 85-week waiting list for back surgery

A father-of-three who has been waiting since December to have an operation on his back, has described how his debilitating condition has affected his physical, mental and financial health in “the worst scenario of everything”


Graham Dunlop, 48, has been unable to work since being diagnosed with a cyst on his back eight months ago and is worried he might lose his family home.

Mr Dunlop, from Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, South Wales, a keen cyclist as well as a community judo instructor, was told the wait for surgery was 85 weeks.

He said: “There are days where quite frankly they just blur. You have got your physical health suffering, you have got your mental health suffering with the pressure and worries, then your financial health goes through the floor.

“You’ve got the worst scenario of everything.”

Mr Dunlop takes 20 different painkillers a day to try to manage the pain, including oral morphine, but said they made him lethargic and unable to focus.

He said he was diagnosed on December 20 and saw a consultant in February.

Afterwards he was told he could have a painkilling injection – in August – but there was an 85-week waiting list for surgery.

Mr Dunlop said he decided to go ahead with the painkilling injection privately, funded by money from his father, but the effects only lasted four weeks.

“I have now been out of work for more than half a year because of the pain caused by a spinal cyst,” he said.

“Soon my sick pay will be reduced leaving me unable to pay my bills and there is a very real chance I may lose my family home.

“I cannot tell you the pain and worry this is causing me.”

On Friday he received the news he had been waiting for – a provisional date for surgery of October 2.

Conservative assembly member Nick Ramsay (Monmouth), who wrote to Aneurin Bevan University Health Board (ABUHB) on Mr Dunlop’s behalf, said: “No one should have to wait more than a year and a half for an operation, especially when their livelihood depends on a swift recovery – Mr Dunlop’s case is truly distressing and sadly not unique.

“That just one spinal surgeon is servicing the demand of an entire health board is totemic of wider waiting time pressures faced by the Welsh NHS, caused by poor recruitment, growing demand and a legacy of cuts by the Welsh Government.”

ABUHB, which runs the Royal Gwent Hospital in Newport where Mr Dunlop will have his surgery, said a second spinal surgeon had been recruited this summer and waiting times were expected “substantially reduce”.

A spokesman said: “It would not be appropriate for us to discuss the details of individual cases, but we would like to offer our sincere apologies to Mr Dunlop for the anxiety and distress he is experiencing while awaiting news of his planned surgery.

“We are aware that our waiting times for spinal surgery are much longer than we would want. This is due to increased demand for this type of surgery, despite measures we have taken each year to increase our capacity.

“We have a range of actions now in place to increase our outpatient and theatre capacity and reduce our waiting times.

“This includes recruiting an additional spinal surgeon who joined our team this summer.”

Earlier this month, the Welsh Government announced a further investment of £50 million to help reduce waiting times following an 20% increase in referrals to hospital-based services over the last five years.

A spokesman for the Government said despite the increase in demand, which was higher for some specialities including orthopaedic (22%), the number of people waiting more than 36 weeks from referral to treatment had fallen from 28,654 in August 2015 to 12,354 in March this year.


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