A POLITICIAN said she is keen to see safe the return of routine outpatient appointments as soon as possible.

Janet Finch-Saunders, Member of the Senedd for Aberconwy, made the call after highlighting that the number of lung function tests taking place across North Wales had dropped since January and May 2020.

According to figures obtained through an Freedom of Information (FOI) request to Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, more than 300 lung function tests took place every month between December and March.

A high was recorded in January 2020 when 461test took place but in April, this had fallen to just 36 tests.

BCUHB explained that the number of tests had gone down due to all 'face to face' outpatient activity being halted in March in line with national guidelines.

The health board stressed that testing remained available where clinicians felt this would influence their management decisions.

This includes patients who have been recovering from Covid 19.

Ms Finch Saunders said: "That over 300 fewer people are benefitting from lung function tests throughout North Wales is concerning, especially if such tests can better our long-term monitoring of the health issues that may arise from this Coronavirus outbreak.

"These lung function tests are crucial to the ongoing health and well-being of local residents and it is incredibly important that the Welsh Government supports our health boards in their return to full capacity.

"Many of my constituents are anxious to see the safe return of routine outpatient appointments after an understandable hiatus.

"I wish to once again pay tribute to all of our clinicians and front-line health staff who have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic. Through my work, I continue to try and ensure that our health workers are adequately supported when undertaking their duties, both throughout the broader recovery period and beyond."

The figures from the FOI revealed that the number of outpatient lung function tests carried out in December 2019 was 381; in January 2020, 461; February, 374; March, 312; April, 36 and May, 55.

Lung function tests are used to diagnose and monitor chronic lung diseases, including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and emphysema.

Kate Clark, secondary care medical director, said: "Without this test, the underlying disease can be managed based on symptoms such breathlessness and exercise tolerance.

“Following national guidelines, we halted all ‘face to face’ outpatient activity in mid-March, which had a significant impact on the number of outpatient lung function tests completed. However, testing remained available where clinicians felt this would influence their management decisions. This includes patients who have been recovering from Covid-19.

“We know that Covid-19 does not affect all people in the same way. Evidence available suggests that those with more severe disease are likely to experience longer term damage to their lungs.

“While they are an important part of how we diagnose and treat respiratory diseases, we have other ways of supporting patients without their use. It is not the only form of monitoring at our disposal, and we intend to follow up those with moderate to severe symptoms.

“We are reviewing our provision of lung function tests to be able to increase the service over the coming months. As an Aerosol Generating Procedure, we are carefully considering how we will increase capacity for this testing in a way which keeps our staff and our patients safe."