The Welsh NHS is facing one of the hardest winters it will have ever faced, its chief executive has warned.
Dr Andrew Goodall said the dual challenge of the Covid-19 pandemic and other respiratory viruses will put enormous pressure on the NHS in Wales.
There are now record waiting times in Wales for treatments to begin with more than 600,000 people on lists.
Accident and emergency units are also under pressure and the Welsh Ambulance Service has had to call in support from the military for the third time since the pandemic began.
The Welsh Government is investing an additional £42 million in social care, with some of the funding used to ease pressure on hospital beds.
The funding was announced as part of a package of measures included in the NHS Wales Health and Social Care Winter Plan.
The Welsh Government said the winter plan will help ensure emergency care is able to cope and minimise disruption to planned care.
Dr Goodall, who is chief executive of the Welsh NHS, said: “We know this winter will be one of the hardest periods we have ever faced, as we face the twin challenges of the pandemic and respiratory viruses, but our Winter Plan will ensure essential services keep running.
“Our services need to be agile and able to respond to those who need hospital care when their condition worsens, as well as providing support as close to home as possible to reduce their need to attend hospital to receive care.”
As part of the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, more than £248 million has already been invested through the NHS recovery fund.
Eluned Morgan, health and social care minister, said: “Winter is always a challenging period and the demands on our health and social care system have never been greater than this pandemic period.
“Our NHS will continue to deliver essential services and is doing everything it can to ensure planned care continues through this busy period.
“Everyone can play their part too by getting their Covid and flu jabs and thinking about the different options for getting the care they need.
“I am also announcing £42 million of social care funding today. The pandemic has put the social care system under great strain and we believe investing in allowing people to access the right care at home will prevent unnecessary hospital admissions, speed up patient discharges and create much-needed additional bed capacity in our hospitals.
“With this plan and additional funding, we can reduce disruption to planned care.
“However, with the pressures on the system I don’t expect us to make real inroads into waiting times until the spring.
“But I am determined to tackle this issue and am very aware of what a difficult time it has been for those who have been waiting a long time for treatment.
“Health Boards will continue to support those who are waiting for treatment.”
Senedd Conservative health spokesman, Russell George, accused the Welsh Government of “copy and pasting” last year’s NHS plan.
“Labour’s plan to support the NHS this winter is basically the same one from last year that has led us to the position where we are experiencing the worst A&E waits on record, the longest treatment backlog ever, and slow ambulance response times,” he said.
“Their plan looks like a copy and paste exercise, something all the more confusing given the minister has reported late and with an extra delay.
“After a quarter of a century of poor management, it’s time for the Welsh Government to admit we are facing a crisis and act on its shortcomings from infection control to staff burnout and bed cuts.”