The NHS in Wales is facing major challenges – we are the first to say so and want there to be an open debate about this. However, there are many myths being bandied around about our health service, a lot of casual point-scoring and political opportunism.
I make no complaint on a personal basis – political debate is what it is. However, what is needed for informed discussion is for people to have access to the facts.
If you listened to all those who attack the NHS in Wales you would think there was a time in the past when health services were better. Just when was that?
The truth is that there are now more treatments given to more patients than ever before in our history. We are on course this year for some 20 million individual treatments and consultations taking place at our GP surgeries and hospitals.
The people who work for NHS Wales are compassionate, hard-working and with a deep commitment to giving patients the best possible treatment. Surveys of patients show this is by far the most common experience.
This is good news, not bad news. More people are receiving more health services than at any time in our history, and the evidence shows that the great majority of them are satisfied with the service they get.
Is the NHS in Wales perfect and beyond criticism? No, things do go wrong. Whether these are isolated cases or systematic failures they must be properly investigated and lessons must be learned by both the NHS and by us in government. That is what we do. The people of Wales have high expectations – and they are right to do so. We share those expectations and so do our health workers.
The UK Prime Minister has used political platforms to attack the NHS in Wales. I will always stand up for Wales, so let’s look at some comparisons…
Much play is made of the fact that Wales does not have a cancer drugs fund – and the inference is that patients in Wales are being denied access to medicines that have not been approved by the National Institute of Clinical Evidence (NICE). The latest figures show that in Wales, almost 6 out of 10 requests for non-NICE approved medicines were approved. In England, less than 3 in 10 applications were approved through the Cancer Drugs Fund between April and June this year.
In fact, in Wales, we spend an additional £11.92 per head on cancer treatment than they do in England.
As a result, Wales has experienced the fastest rate of improvement for cancer survival rates since 1993.
In Wales, over half of patients attending A&E last year were either admitted, treated, discharged or transferred within 2 hours of arrival – nine out of 10 within four hours – a 7.4 per cent improvement between March and August 2013. In England, the four hour waiting time target was missed across the NHS from January to March, with more than 300,000 patients waiting longer than they should have – a 39 per cent rise on the previous year.
One of the challenges we face is the financing of the NHS. There is an increased demand for our services with a rising population and people living longer. In parallel the Welsh budget is being squeezed year on year by the UK Government.
The choices we must make won’t be easy but we are committed to being open with the people of Wales. It is why we have launched a new service for patients in Wales – MyLocalHealthService – which gives detailed information on how your local NHS is performing, allowing us to drive up standards.
Yes we are facing some difficult issues, but we have so much to applaud in the NHS in Wales. It is disappointing that the vast majority of excellent and life saving care that goes on every day goes largely unnoticed by the media and opposition. This is why it is so important to separate the fact from the fiction and focus on delivering a sustainable, effective and efficient health service for Wales.
In Wales we put the patient first, not profit. We are not – and never will – privatise the NHS, unlike in England – where the sell-off is already underway, with private companies such as Virgin running and influencing large swathes of healthcare services in England.
NHS Wales remains true to the principles of Aneurin Bevan: quality healthcare delivered by highly motivated clinicians and free at the point of delivery.