A health check on Labour pledges

 

Trouble comes in all shapes and sizes.

In Westminster David Cameron is in the firing line for trying to persuade his party to introduce something that wasn't in its manifesto.

In Cardiff Carwyn Jones is having to defend his government for not introducing something that was in his party's manifesto.

We're in "monumental climbdown", "U-turn", "broken pledge" territory. Instead of health checks with the doctor for all over 50s in Wales, they will instead be offered an "innovative" alternative at a time and place that suits them. In other words, the initial health check will be face to face with a computer screen instead.

Visit the 2011 Labour manifesto (yes, it too is online) and you'll see that the pledge they made then was clear enough:

Instigate a programme of annual health checks, led by GPs, practice nurses, pharmacists and other health professionals, for everyone over the age of 50 over the next Assembly term.

When the real work was put in to discover what it would cost to deliver - and what it would actually deliver the patient - it turned out be not such a good idea after all.

The Liberal Democrats pointed out this morning that when they asked GPs what they made of the pledge, their survey said "uh uh!" (Insert Kirsty Williams in Les Dennis/Vernon Kay mode.) "Labour should admit they stuck something in a manifesto that sounded good and would be popular - no more" she added. Labour would be forgiven for suggesting Lib Dems know a thing or two about that. and as we put it in Welsh, 'it takes a clean bird to sing'.

The opposition parties seem to accept the government's probably right not to deliver this one. Their problem is that they promised in the run-up to the election that they could and would.

Instead:

"The health checks programme will provide a modern gateway to prevention and health information services in Wales, which can help people over the age of 50 to make choices to support better health and wellbeing."

In other words, over 50s can go online later this year, when the government has worked out how the service can be delivered, and those who actually need to see a GP can be identified and encouraged to visit the doctor.

It's more "second class substitute" than "modern gateway" say the Conservatives. Is it really worth pressing ahead with spending nearly three quarters of a million pounds over the coming financial year on a website ask Plaid Cymru, when other similar online advice sites already exist and where you'll inevitably attract the so-called "worried well" in enthusiastic droves? Better take the hit over a broken pledge (and Plaid know their fair share about that sort of thing too) than plough more money into a pretty expensive fig leaf, seems to be their take.

Yes, it's health again, the service that Carwyn Jones warned a few days ago would "collapse" unless it is reformed. The awkward truth for Mr Jones, of course, is not that he's wrong but that his party has been in charge of delivering health care in Wales since 1999. How do you argue successfully that reform is critical, when the service you're talking about was made by successive governments all led by your own party? The answer, of course, is that you point to Westminster public spending cuts and condemn the coalition for forcing your hand to make deeper cuts than you believe are right. But as Labour appeared to accept a few weeks ago, their constituents may sometimes feel that alibi can wear a little thin.

In three months' time Carwyn Jones' government will be two years old. It's a government and a leadership based on one word more than any other - delivery. If Mr Jones wasn't planning on delivering a coalition-style "full, frank and unvarnished progress report" he'll know now that opposition parties are very much on the case.

 
Betsan Powys Article written by Betsan Powys Betsan Powys Former political editor, Wales

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