Senedd sketch: Welsh NHS centre stage as First Minister’s Questions returns for the New Year
The 2023 competition for the most long-winded question during First Minister’s Questions in the Senedd has kicked off.
This week’s prize goes to Welsh Conservative Altaf Hussein MS for South Wales West.
Dr Hussein, himself a retired consultant orthopaedic surgeon, was on familiar ground when he asked Mark Drakeford how he intended to “eliminate multi-year waits for NHS treatment.”
Mr Drakeford said: “In the six months following the publication of the Planned Care Recovery Programme, long waits in the NHS have fallen 23%. That is the result of significant additional investment, expanding facilities and service reform. But most of all the enormous effort of NHS staff themselves.”
Dr Hussein responded by saying that long waits for treatment, especially in orthopaedics, had been around since long before the pandemic, and said:
“One of my constituents has been waiting for a total knee replacement since 2019. He has been in agony for three and a half years.
“All the health board can tell me is that the waiting list is over four years long, and that the patient should see his GP to manage the pain. Do you agree that it is totally unacceptable that patients should wait that long … putting a burden on secondary care …”
Mr Drakeford did not agree: “I don’t accept the general picture that the member points at this being a long-term problem in the Welsh NHS. Waiting times have been falling for four to five years in a row, up to March 2019. It is the impact of the pandemic that has built up those lengthy waiting list – in every part of the UK.”
Fellow Welsh Labour MS Alun Davies to the rescue.
“First Minister would you agree with me that it takes some front for a Conservative to criticise the NHS?”
The member for Blaenau Gwent was rewarded with some mild laughter and a flicker of a smile from Dr Hussein.
Mr Davies added: “Over the past decade austerity has ripped the heart out of our public services and Brexit has ripped the heart out of our economy! What we need to do to celebrate the 75th anniversary (5 July 2023) of Aneurin Bevan establishing the NHS is to provide it with the sort of funds it requires to deliver for people now and in the future.”
Now in full swing, Mr Davies delivers the first ‘clear’ in this year’s First Minister’s Questions, and said: “That means we have to be crystal clear in your next meeting with the Prime Minister that austerity has failed … and if we want to see an NHS succeeding as it has, and as Aneurin Bevan wanted it to, then we need to invest in it.”
Thanking him, Mr Drakeford added: “He reminds us of how fiercely opposed by the Conservative Party Aneurin Bevan was at the time. There would never have been an NHS had that party had its way.”
Satisfaction levels with the NHS service was at its highest in 2010 and at its lowest in recent months said Mr Drakeford: “Because in 2010 there had been a decade of investment in our public services.”
But a further decade of austerity lies at the root of the difficulties we currently face, explained Mr Drakeford, before adding that now: “People are feeling obliged to go on strike to express their dissatisfaction with pay held back over a decade and the effect it has had on their lives.”
Leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Andrew RT Davies MS, was in full finger pointing mode, both physically and verbally.
“Last week you brought forward a proposal to discharge patients without care plans and suitable provision in the community. Doctors and health professionals have said patients could die and come to serious harm. Do you agree with (them)?”
Mr Drakeford was rattled and said he completely rejected Mr Davies’s “characterisation – and he should know better.
“It is completely irresponsible for him to misrepresent the advice – not only of the Welsh Government, but of the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, and the Chief Nursing Officer of Wales.”
Waving some paperwork in his hand Mr Drakeford continued: “I have their letter in front of me and it doesn’t in any way bear out (your) accusations. It refers throughout to safe discharge and says to the system that is has to seek to balance the risk across all those people it seeks to provide.”
More in sorrow than in anger by now, Mr Drakeford continued: “As he well knows people are struggling to get access to the front door of the system, often with significant needs. At the other end of the system, prior to Christmas we had 1,200 patients in a health service bed in Wales who were medically fit to be discharged.”
Back on his feet, Mr Davies said: “It’s not me that’s saying it …” and proceeded to advise Senedd Members present to do “a quick google on it …”
Calmly and collected Mr Drakeford reminded everyone that 27 December 2022 was: “The single busiest day in the 75-year history of the Welsh NHS (and) on that day 550 patients were admitted to a bed in the Welsh NHS … The letter responded in a sober and responsible way to that set of circumstances.”
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