Why councils are facing the brunt

If ever someone wanted a reminder of why councils are facing the worst of the cuts at the moment, then the latest figures on the performance of the NHS in Wales should do it.

They cover the length of time patients have to wait for hospital treatment after being referred by a GP, and the time it takes to get a diagnostic test like a CT scan or ultrasound.

In August, 86% of patients waited less than 26 weeks for hospital treatment after being referred by their GP. The target is 95%.

It was the first time that more than 60,000 patients waited over 26 weeks in Wales, and the first time the number waiting over 36 weeks broke through the 20,000 mark.

And on diagnostics, 24,000 people waited more than two months, which is supposed to be the maximum.

It accounts for just under a third of all patients who are waiting. The overall proportion of patients who are waiting more than eight weeks rose by nearly four percentage points from the previous month.

Diagnostic hub

The Welsh government insists that there can be no comparison between the relative figures between Wales and England because of differences in the way the figures are compiled.

That said, there's a general acceptance, including from the Welsh Government, that there are real difficulties with diagnostic waits. And, as we reported earlier in the year, proportionately more patients wait longer than eight weeks in Wales than in England.

It's the reason why there is significant investment in this area such as a diagnostic hub at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital in Llantrisant.

The latest figures don't make pretty reading for those involved in running the NHS in Wales.

Waits for things like MRI scans and ultrasound have been generally going up over the past two years.

The referral to treatment times have also got worse on the month, and over the past two years.

Vaughan Gething, the Deputy Minister for Health, was keen to point out to me, much of it is down to a big rise in the number of patients being treated for illnesses like cancer because doctors are successfully diagnosing problems at an early stage.

Politically, the figures highlight how it would have been so difficult for the Welsh government not to give more cash to the NHS for the second year running at the expense of local authorities.

These figures will get more attention as the general election campaign hots up. And inevitably comparisons with England will be central, although it should be noted that the English referral to treatment times also deteriorated in August.

So all is not rosy on the other side of Offa's Dyke in health and we can expect that to be one of the main lines of defence of the Welsh government, and more generally the Labour Party, in the months ahead.