Wales

NHS tax call to relieve 'unprecedented' winter pressures

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Media captionHonest conversation on NHS funding needed, says nurses boss Tina Donnelly

An NHS tax of one penny in every pound could bring in billions to tackle "unprecedented" demand, a nursing union chief has said.

The Royal College of Nursing Wales director said despite 49% of the Welsh government's budget going on health and a plan in place, it had struggled this winter.

Tina Donnelly called for an "honest conversation" on how it is funded.

The UK government has been asked to comment on the tax call.

Meanwhile, NHS Wales said it planned for this winter based on last year's demand, but there have been increases on top of that.

The Welsh Government announced an extra £10m to ease winter pressures on Friday - with the NHS already getting roughly half of its £15bn budget.

Ms Donnelly said: "There are no quick fixes here, 49% of the budget given to the Welsh government already goes to the NHS.

"If the public still demands a free NHS, then we have to have an honest public conversation and say we cannot afford it under current financial arrangements.

"It is not rocket science. Maybe we could have an NHS tax, an increase by a penny in every pound for all the working population. It would bring in billions."

She called for this to be done at a UK government level and said it should have cross-party agreement, describing getting rid of the NHS as "political suicide".

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Emergency departments at Welsh hospitals were likened to "battlefields" as patient numbers rose by 3.3% to 2,752 a day in November, new figures show.

Health secretary Vaughan Gething also apologised for operations that have been cancelled because of winter pressures.

Ms Donnelly said "unprecedented demand is outstretching resources and frontline staff".

She said it cannot go on year on year, with patients who have "mentally and physically prepared", having operations cancelled.

NHS Wales chief executive Andrew Goodall said it had prepared for winter pressures based on last year's demand.

However, on New Year's Eve, for example, there was a 50% increase in calls about people suffering from life-threatening conditions.

There was also an increase in frail and elderly people over 85 attending A&E, while he said "flu activity can add extra pressures".

While Mr Goodall admitted strains were "in excess of what we anticipated" over the new year, they had "stabilised" by Friday, with 20% less people in A&E.

When asked about his view on an NHS tax, he said: "We have to respond and deal with the immediate situation."

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