Another day, another row

Another day, another row between the Welsh and the UK governments.

This time over the politically toxic claim that soldiers injured in places such as Afghanistan are being caught up in longer NHS waiting lists in Wales than in England.

A partial account of a meeting between officials at the Ministry of Defence, the Department of Health and the devolved nations in February was highlighted in some of the Sunday papers this weekend.

The line that has attracted most attention refers to the most senior medical officer in the armed forces, Surgeon General Air Marshall Paul Evans.

It was reported that he thought there were "issues faced by personnel facing longer waiting times in Wales than elsewhere".

The Welsh government says not only is that incorrect but also that it is an inaccurate record of the meeting.

The Ministry of Defence insists the account was agreed by everyone who was there.

'War on Wales'

This is classic tit for tat.

The main accusation from the Welsh government is that it is part of the politically-motivated "war on Wales" waged by the Conservatives at Westminster.

There is no doubt it is being used by Welsh Labour's political opponents, but the question is whether ministers in Cardiff Bay are providing them with ammunition (forgive the military pun).

The Welsh government has a point when it says there are no concrete details or examples of injured soldiers waiting for treatment, just a selective extract from the minutes of a meeting.

Madeleine Moon, the MP for Bridgend and a member of the defence select committee, also has a point when she says it is odd as Paul Evans refused to highlight any problems in the Welsh NHS, despite being repeatedly asked about it when he appeared in front of MPs recently.

The Welsh government has tried to boost its case by sending me a copy of the response from the Department of Health to a freedom of information request from the Sunday Times.

The response with the appropriate information was sent to the paper on the same day as the request was sent. A response as quick as that is highly unusual for freedom of information requests - the Welsh government says suspiciously so.

Existing disputes

Yet on the other side, the Ministry of Defence says the reference to longer waiting times in Wales was accepted by all of the officials at the time.

And Paul Evans has at no stage come out and stated publicly that the tone of the reports in some of the Sunday papers was wrong.

For those who have not seen the Sunday Times, the headline was "Long NHS waits force ill troops out of Wales".

All the Ministry of Defence will say is that Paul Evans does not want to point the finger, he just wants to ensure there is consistency of treatment for soldiers across the UK and, as a result, a review of cross-border services for soldiers will get under way.

This story has echoes of existing disputes between the two governments on either side of the M4.

You can take your pick in relation to health, but it has been happening in transport as well with the dispute over who pays for the electrification of the south Wales valleys rail network.

I am sure there are many examples where relations are perfectly cordial between ministers and officials but there does appear to be an inability or a reluctance to resolve some key issues behind the scenes.