NHS changes: Welsh government plans PR campaign for 'difficult' proposals

Ministers have thrown their weight behind a report setting out the case for centralising health services

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The Welsh government is preparing a publicity offensive about changes to the NHS, BBC Wales understands.

Ministers have thrown their weight behind a report setting out the case for centralising health services.

The current system "provides variable quality" and is too expensive to run, according to research commissioned by health boards.

Health boards are due to start outlining their proposals to the public this month.

Formal consultation will take place over the summer with final plans expected to be approved and implemented from August onwards.

The cabinet has endorsed a strategy of "unambiguous and direct" language about the dangers of continuing with the current configuration of services.

'Controversial'

Start Quote

The Welsh government wants to ensure safe and sustainable services for patients”

End Quote Welsh government spokesman

A cabinet paper says changes will be "difficult and controversial", adding: "The intention now is to move increasingly onto the front foot in our communications."

Doctors will play a "much more active role in describing the reasons for change and the nature of the proposals".

Proposals will increasingly be described "in terms of their benefit and gain".

Hospitals will become "centres of excellence" with distinctive strengths and characteristics, it adds.

Research by experts at the University of Glamorgan, commissioned by health boards, says: "The current pattern of services across Wales not only provides variable quality but is also more expensive to run."

THE CASE FOR CHANGE

Local health boards commissioned the Wales Institute for Health and Social Care at Glamorgan University to come up with a case for change in the NHS. It found:

  • Mortality rates for general surgery, trauma and orthopaedics, general medicine and stroke services are higher in Wales than in England.
  • As in England, patients are at increased risk when admitted to hospital at the weekend.
  • There is evidence that centralising emergency surgery brings mortality rate up to the English average.
  • Mortality for heart attacks, stroke and major trauma are improved when services are centralised.
  • Problems recruiting junior and middle-ranking doctors present "severe challenges to sustainable clinical services".
  • Outcomes improve significantly if patients receive the right care and treatment within the first "golden hour" of falling ill or getting injured.

The findings, called The Case for Change, are likely to form the evidence in favour of making changes to the NHS in Wales.

A summary of the research by Health Minister Lesley Griffiths says the Welsh NHS "must change to ensure it continues to improve to be comparable with the best health services in the world".

It was presented to the cabinet and endorsed by First Minister Carwyn Jones in March.

The Welsh government is also preparing to ramp up its warning about the safety of services if major changes are not implemented.

It will say reducing admissions to, and reliance on, beds at district general hospitals would be a consequence of the proposed changes.

Ministers have a long-standing ambition to treat more people at home instead of in hospitals.

The first minister said hospitals were not under threat of closure when he was challenged about the government's plans in the Senedd chamber on Tuesday.

Even before proposals have been published, the Welsh government has faced opposition, with protesters demonstrating on the steps of the Senedd in Cardiff Bay.

A recent YouGov poll for the NHS Confederation indicated nearly 60% of people were opposed to centralising services in fewer, larger hospitals.

Mrs Griffiths has defended the need for an overhaul and has pledged that district general hospitals will not be downgraded.

Her spokesman said: "The Welsh government wants to ensure safe and sustainable services for patients. We make no apologies for that and we've repeatedly said that's our aim.

"If opposition parties do not share this aim and would prefer to turn this serious issue into a pre-election stunt, then it's up to them to explain themselves to the Welsh people."

For the Conservatives, shadow health minister Darren Millar said: "While Ed Miliband crows about Labour being back 'in-touch', these documents make it very clear that their proposals for the Welsh NHS are disliked and unsuitable.

"Ministers are so out-of-touch that they're recruiting doctors into their PR machine to try and convince patients of their ill-thought and dangerous plans."

Plaid health spokeswoman Elin Jones said: "What this proves is that our health service is not safe in Labour's hands - the very least the people of Wales should be able to expect now is that the government comes clean over the nature of the cuts it wants to deliver."

Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams said: "The Welsh Labour government has publicly said that it has no plans to downgrade district hospitals, but today's revelations demonstrate that it was actually just cynically delaying plans until after the local elections."

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