Welsh NHS at point of meltdown?

24th September 2013

News on the Monday of Labour Party Conference was dominated by the NHS in Wales. The Con-Dems attempted to use the crisis in NHS care in Wales – deep cuts, rising waiting lists, queues of ambulances outside of hospitals, emergency care wait times – as a stick to beat Miliband and Labour with. Wales, the Con-Dems point out, is the one area of the UK with a Labour Government and the NHS is collapsing on their watch is their claim.

Working class people in Wales aren’t going to take lectures about the NHS from the Con-Dems. We’re fully aware of how in England, the Health and Social Care Act, with its rampant privatisation, is leading to the destruction of services. We consider ourselves fortunate not to have the worry of the same level of privatisation or of the NHS in Wales being subject to new PFI schemes. 

This doesn’t mean however that we agree with Ed Milliband’s glowing assessment of the Welsh Government’s stewardship of the NHS in Wales. Deep cuts are damaging NHS services. A report in Wales Online last week asks whether the NHS in Wales will be able to cope over the coming winter. The answer is far from positive. 

Health unions warn that morale is at rock bottom. Welsh Labour have promised that savings would not be achieved through making redundancies in the Welsh NHS. In May this was stated by First Minister, Carwyn Jones, to the Wales TUC. Staff at Cardiff and Vale Health Board, facing 384 redundancies, know how hollow this promise is.

Health workers report the drive to meet financial targets – incorporating cuts that will mean in the next financial year that spending in Wales on the NHS will be the lowest in the UK – threatens the quality of services provided. A letter quoted, from A&E consultants to health Minister, Mark Drakeford, makes this clear, “Emergency departments across Wales are on their knees. Local Health Boards are being pressurised into meeting their financial targets, so acute hospital beds have been closed to save money.

“The result? Our emergency departments are at the point of meltdown. Most days, they are seriously overcrowded. This jeopardises safety and puts patients at risk – there is clear evidence that death rates go up if patients requiring admission remain in emergency departments for hours while they wait for ward beds to become available. This is happening right here, right now, across Wales.”

At Labour Conference, under questioning from the press, Miliband was forced to admit that there are problems with NHS services in Wales but then blamed the Con-Dems and said that Labour was doing a good job of spreading the cuts fairly in Wales. Is this the best that a Labour Welsh Government can do - decide how best to make Con-Dem cuts?

Working class communities of Wales deserve more. We need political representatives that will stand up to the Con-Dems; not make their cuts; representatives that will fight all cuts to give us the NHS we need. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition in Wales is working now towards giving working class voters the opportunity to vote for such representatives in 2015.
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