Importance of certain key people in Welsh health service

We were given an interesting glimpse into the NHS, and the importance of some individuals within it, during this week's First Minister's Questions.

Carwyn Jones was asked about urology cancer patients treated by the Betsi Cadwalader University Health Board. This covers prostate, kidney and bladder cancer.

The background is that the North Wales Cancer Network has warned that services are not fit for purpose, pointing to examples of hundreds of cases of patients with bladder cancer waiting for an appointment date.

Carwyn Jones said the problems had been caused by the sudden death of one consultant and the retirement of another.

Afterwards, he told me the loss of two consultants would be a problem in just about any hospital in Wales other than the largest, the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff.

By stressing this he was also making the point that the problems in urology in north Wales were short term and related to recruitment.

Frustration

But at the same time it's striking that the loss of two individuals can have such an impact on services, and will no doubt be used by critics to argue how fragile the NHS has become.

I'm not aware of the details of the consultants, but presumably the retirement is something that could have been planned for.

There is a slightly separate argument about whether the Welsh government should be taking the flak for the decisions of health board managers.

Behind the scenes I know there's a frustration in the Welsh government that when there are problems in the English NHS the individual health trust tends to get the blame rather than the UK government.

The different sides in the debate about the state of the NHS have become polarised and entrenched.

On the one side the Conservatives are trying to say that the Welsh NHS in its entirety, or as some kind of block, is worse than the entire English NHS or some part of it.

On the other is Labour, which says there are strengths and weaknesses on either side of the border.

Failing narrative

There are difficulties for both. For the Tories it'll be tough to make their case so long as there are high profile problems with the NHS in England.

Senior Labour figures were pointing out to me in Westminster last week a story about serious medical negligence examples highlighted by the NHS watchdog in England.

And the problem for the Welsh government is that it's relatively easy for critics to point out some kind of under performance or mistake and fit it into the narrative of failing health services in Wales.

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