Crisis meeting for NHS Wales called by First Minister
Health board officials from across Wales have been summoned to a crisis meeting with First Minister Mark Drakeford over spending cuts that will have a serious impact on the NHS.
The meeting, which will take place in mid August, comes as practitioners within the health service become increasingly concerned about how it will cope as inflationary pressures continue to mount.
On July 11, when presenting the Welsh Government’s annual report to the Senedd, Mr Drakeford told MSs: “The challenges faced during the past 12 months were unprecedented—a combination of economic and fiscal pressures produced by one of the most difficult financial situations that this nation has ever experienced.
“While progress in the second year of our programme has been significant, the current year is already much more difficult, and the next financial year is set to be more difficult still. In this year, our settlement is worth up to £900 million less in real terms than was expected when it was set by the current Prime Minister, who was then the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in October 2021.
“Our capital budget will be 5 per cent lower in real terms next year than last year, because of the inexplicable failure of the UK Government to invest in public infrastructure at a time when interest rates were low. All of this has direct, unavoidable and adverse consequences for the delivery of our programme for government.
“Last week, the NHS celebrated its 75th birthday, and we are rightly proud of that national health service and the tens of thousands of staff who are at its beating heart. Even in these toughest of times, we have committed more than £1 billion in additional funding over the course of this Senedd term to help it to recover from the pandemic and to reduce waiting times.
“Thanks to the hard work of staff all over Wales, those long waits are falling. We’ve worked with our GP community to improve access to appointments and launched the NHS ‘111 press 2’ service across Wales, right across Wales now, providing access to mental health support whenever people need it.”
Referring to the forthcoming meeting with health board leaders, a Welsh Government spokeswoman said: “The Health Minister meets regularly with NHS leaders on all aspects of performance, including finance, especially as we prepare for next year’s budget.
“Given the seriousness of the current financial position – our budget this year, after the UK Spring Budget in March, is up to £900m lower in real terms than we expected at the time of the 2021 spending review – the First Minister is keen to stay updated about activity across all Welsh Government departments.”
Secretary of State for Wales David Davies made it clear that the Conservative Party sees the state of the NHS in Wales as a key issue in advance of the next general election, expected to be held in 2024.
Mr Davies said: “It’s deeply concerning that the Welsh Labour government appears to be telling NHS boards in Wales to make service cuts.
“The fact is that for every pound per head spent in England, the NHS in Wales has £1.20 to spend. Yet in Wales we’re seeing longer waiting lists and now the prospect of cuts to services.
“We need a proper explanation from the Welsh Government about their priorities. We know that more than £100m has been misspent by the Betsi Cadwaladr health board, yet the Welsh Government has sacked the commissioners who pointed that out and refused to publish the report that identified problems.
“On top of that, we know that money has been wasted in other policy areas. According to the Institute of Welsh Affairs, the Welsh Government spent £150m on the M4 relief road that it decided to cancel.
“In England, the UK Government has always protected health spending. That simply hasn’t happened in Wales. Yet the Welsh Government has had the benefit of Barnett consequential funding that provides it with 20% more funding for the NHS than in England.
“You’d think that UK Labour would want to draw attention to the part of the UK where its party has been in power since the start of devolution and in charge of the health service. Yet the likes of Keir Starmer shy away from referring to that. Clearly they are embarrassed by Welsh Labour’s stewardship of the NHS, despite the extra funding they have had.
“We shall certainly be drawing people’s attention to the appalling way in which Labour has run the NHS in Wales during the general election campaign, when it comes.”
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