Wales

Welsh NHS 'crisis' blamed on Labour by Conservatives

The Welsh National Health Service has been run by Labour since 1999; the start of devolution. Throughout those 15 years - up to and including the present day - hard-working NHS staff continue to show untold commitment and determination. They always have and I'm sure they always will.

Why is the NHS in crisis? It's certainly not down to them - that much is very clear. It is Labour that makes the decisions, it is Labour that makes policy and it is Labour that must be held to account for the stats, facts and figures that highlight startling underperformance.

Overlong waiting times. Limited access to cancer drugs. Poor standards of care. More people than ever are waiting for their first hospital appointment in Wales - one in seven - and more people than ever are waiting over 36 weeks for it. A&E targets haven't been met in five years. For urgent cancer waiting targets it's six. Patients in Wales are four times less likely to receive new cancer treatments than those in England.

The recent Andrews report on standards of care in the Abertawe Bro Morgannwg health board area was shocking in its severity; a woman overheard saying "I am in hell", a mum who "had no medication or food or water for days", a hospital that left a dad with "the cloth and a bowl to wash himself". This list goes on.

These are failings that have quite rightly caught the attention of media right across the United Kingdom, particularly in recent weeks. The NHS itself is not at fault, nor will it ever be. It's a national treasure.

The blame lies with those sitting around the cabinet table in Cardiff - Welsh government Labour ministers. It is here where a decision was made in 2010 to cut the NHS budget in Wales in real terms. By deciding not to protect that health funding, as was happening in Conservative-led England, Labour set in motion a chain of events that would heap untold pressure on frontline staff.

Recent Labour scrambles to inject more money - scraped from other areas - are proof of that mistake. It is also around this table where a decision could be made to accept responsibility, root out the mistakes, and safeguard the NHS for future generations; a decision to implement an independent Wales-wide NHS inquiry.

That's what Welsh Conservatives want. As do top doctors at the British Medical Association. As does the north Wales patients' watchdog. As does senior Labour MP Ann Clwyd. Professor Keogh - the man who carried out a similar inquiry in England - has also suggested this route could be beneficial.

What do Labour ministers want? A revamp of the targets they've missed. And a continuation of their determination to downgrade emergency departments.

Why is the NHS in crisis? There's your answer.

Eighteen months ago UK Labour leader Ed Miliband said "we have a great deal to learn" from the Welsh government. It is no surprise then, that in the months following that the spotlight on the Welsh system - and the ministers at its core - has brightened. Labour politicians may not like it - but in the interests of staff, patients and their families - they have to make improvements.

It's time for an independent inquiry.

Darren Millar is the Welsh Conservatives' Shadow Health Minister

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