Wales online comments on Daily Mail allegations [Oct 20 2014]
A real debate about our health system is required but mud-slinging and frightening the families of Welsh patients will do nothing to keep the NHS alive.
[The article includes a comparison between performances of the NHS in Wales and England.]
An ongoing campaign by a right-leaning tabloid to expose the weaknesses of the NHS in Wales may highlight important incidents that should be investigated with urgency. Scrutiny and reform can help any institution.
But this is not the time for a party-political attempt to denigrate the Welsh NHS with the goal of scaring the voters of Middle England.
Before a party staffer presses the “send” button and e-mails a press release claiming that the NHS is a death-trap they should pause and think of the families in which a loved one is about to go into hospital.
The children of a mother who is about to have an operation will already be wracked with worry. Their anxiety will only intensify if there is a repeat of the prime minister’s claim, made in April, that Offa’s Dyke is becoming the “line between life and death”.
A landmark report by the Nuffield Trust and the Health Foundation on health provision across the UK nations concluded there was “little sign that one country is moving ahead of the others consistently across the available indicators of performance”.
The report, published in April, highlighted major areas of concern. Why are Welsh patients waiting on average around 170 days for a hip or knee replacement when in Scotland or England they would wait 70 days?
David Cameron makes his closing speech to the Conservative conference 2014 in Birmingham David Cameron has described Offa’s Dyke as “the line between life and death”
On funding, the authors also pointed out that rates of growth in cash terms fell in Wales by 1% while spending increased in the other nations. Since 2000, health spending in England has increased by 115% but only by 98% in Wales.
The Welsh Government is rightly under pressure to improve performance. In September, 86.3% of people arriving at Welsh A&Es were seen within four hours, while in October 93.8% of English patients were seen within this time period.
It is right to hold health boards and the Welsh Government to account for their spending and policy choices. The Conservatives and other parties have a responsibility to flag-up failures, champion the cases of constituents, and put forward a vision for improvements.
But the temptation must be resisted to portray Wales as a land where healthcare has collapsed, as a nightmare vision that England must avoid.
A comparison of cancer waiting times shows that in England in the second quarter of this year 84.1% of people started treatment within 62 days of an urgent GP referral; in Wales, 85.2% of patients on the urgent route started treatment within 62 days in August.
Welsh politicians know that horrifying scandals such as those Mid Staffordshire are not representative of conditions across the English NHS; to suggest otherwise would be irresponsible and inaccurate.
Ambulance services in Wales and England are missing response time targets.
In this fevered election climate, English politicians should not present examples of failure and incompetence in NHS Wales as indicative of care across the nation. To do so would be a gross misrepresentation of reality and would risk frightening vulnerable people.
Politicians should also think twice before making like-for-like comparisons between Wales and England.
Wales has a population of just three million people and is home to isolated communities ravaged by the collapse of heavy industry; in contrast, England has a population of more than 53 million and contains both the affluent Home Counties and the economically-challenged North East. A more reasonable approach would be to compare how NHS areas in, for example, the Welsh Valleys and former mining communities in the north of England perform.
An earnest debate about the NHS is required as the election looms. NHS leaders in England have warned that by 2020-21 the service could face a £30bn “funding gap” and the BMA have not hidden their fears about the situation in Wales.
The challenge of sustaining a system which is free at the point of need at a time when Britain faces rising medical costs, constrained public finances and an ageing population is one that would daunt Hercules.
Decisions taken about the future of the NHS in England may have a direct impact on the Treasury cash transferred to Wales under the Barnett formula. Choices made in Westminster and Whitehall will influence the options available to the Welsh Government.
This is not the time to pit Wales against England but to have an intelligent debate about how to meet the needs of all of our citizens in the months, years and decades ahead. Especially when so many Welsh patients depend on health services on the English side of the border, we should ask if this is really the time to consider stopping Welsh MPs voting on England’s NHS as part of a rushed attempt to answer the West Lothian Question.
Politicians and policymakers need to be frank with the public about the changes that may be required to rescue the NHS across the UK and not keep the tough questions under wraps until the election is over. On both the left and the right of UK politics there are men and women of goodwill who have different ideas about the best way forward and these need to be debated.
An acrimonious campaign of scare-mongering will not deliver the solutions the NHS needs. Is it too much to ask in a 21st century democracy that we could have a mature debate?
The UK has the chance to show a sceptical world that a country with a competitive economy can also run a health service that ensures rich and poor alike can benefit from the highest of standards of treatment, care and compassion. This is a prize worth fighting for, the task is urgent, and there is no time for mud-slinging by either side.