Most people in Britain have had their fill of General Elections over the past few years, writes Carolyn Webster. In 2015, 2017, and 2019, the same mantras were trotted out by left-wing activists to try and hit the Conservative campaign. “Three days to save the NHS”, “100 hours to save the NHS”, “13 days to save the NHS”, “Our NHS is in crisis”.
The first use of that trope I found was on 17 April 1997 by the King of the Political Soundbite, the sidekick to the Prince of Darkness himself, Tony Blair, who told the nation that we had only “14 days to save the NHS”.
Labour voters really should have listened, because not only was he the PM who came closest to selling off the National Health Service in the form of his PFIs, but he was also the one who gave a devolution referendum to the people of Wales, and set the Welsh NHS on a pathway to destruction, as it has been governed with contempt, arrogance, and hubris by a Labour Party which, since 1999 has been propped up by both Plaid Cymru and the Lib Dems.
In the NHS’s 72 years of existence, in England, the Conservative Party has nurtured the NHS for 45 of those years, while Labour held power over it for 27 years.
In Wales, the NHS has been under the control of Labour for that bit longer due to it leading the Welsh Assembly. In other words, Labour has managed the decline of the Welsh NHS for 21 years.
In 2016, I was a list candidate for the Welsh Assembly Election (a brilliant platform for people who have never stood for election before. Do consider applying for the regional lists to develop your skills) I knocked on the door of a nurse I knew.
“Why would I vote for you? You’re a Conservative and look at what you are doing to the NHS in Wales! Don’t you want people to get well?”
I was horrified that someone with a degree in nursing did not know who was writing the cheque to pay her wages. I robustly informed her of the facts, the Welsh uplift in funding from the UK Government, the cuts made to the NHS budget by Labour…
Welsh Labour attempts to hide behind England for its failings in managing the Welsh NHS, but Welsh Labour is the only government ever to cut funding to the NHS.
In my 46 years, I have used the NHS for many things: operations (pioneering and routine); investigations; babies; a miscarriage; routine accidents… All the usual stuff. My daughter had to be referred to a consultant in Great Ormond Street Hospital. My son has been under the care of a remarkably brilliant paediatrician since he was 18 months old, after being referred back into the NHS services after a private consultation right at the start of his medical and developmental journey. We are grateful recipients of its facilities, funded from the – finite – public purse.
But this article is not about me.
It is about the Welsh NHS boards that have been in special measures. Particular mention must go to Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, which has languished in special measures for five years. This health board serves a quarter of the Welsh population, a quarter of the Welsh population who face poor performance when it comes to waiting times for orthopaedic surgery, waiting times for A and E.
The institutional abuse which saw elderly patients on a dementia ward at Tawel Fan, a part of the now-closed Ysbyty Glan Clwyd, was the straw which broke the camel’s back for Betsi Cadwaladr. It was then that the-then Health Minister, a certain Mark Drakeford, placed the board into special measures way back in 2015, citing “serious and outstanding concerns” about the board’s leadership.1
Chip Connoisseur Vaughan Gething, deputy to Drakeford from 2014 before becoming Minister for Health in 2016 remains in charge with his poor leadership and lack of strategic vision for improving the lot of the North Wales Health Board, not least dealing with the projected deficit for 2020/21 of £40 million.
But that’s not all. Betsi Cadwaladr has gone from a crisis straight to a catastrophe, bypassing a disaster.
This article has been purposefully written to discuss the Welsh NHS pre-Covid, but it would be wrong to talk about Betsi Cadwaladr without mentioning its latest “error”, where nearly 1,700 mental health patients were discharged from services with a letter to advise them to seek a new referral after the pandemic.
The people in North Wales deserve better.
It is not just about Betsi Cadwaladr. There are other scandals right across Wales. We have seen Cwm Taf Health Board’s Royal Glamorgan maternity scandal and the falsified tests at Abertawe Bro Morgannwg’s Princess of Wales which has since seen nurses prosecuted and imprisoned.
Figures from 2019 – pre-Covid – highlighted that across Wales, between 2015 and 2019, nearly 170,000 operations were cancelled, none of which was the fault of the patient.
Cardiff and the Vale NHS Trust topped the chart over the period with 42,818 cancelled operations, Betsi Cadwaladr coming second with 38,930, followed by Abertawe Bro Morgannwg with 38,777, Aneurin Bevan Health Board at 32,443.
The pain and anxiety and medical detriment of cancelling operations can result in more cost to the Welsh NHS. This is a ticking time bomb waiting to explode when delays as a result of Covid are examined.
As we move through this pandemic, we cannot forget those patients whose safety has been compromised, whose treatment has been delayed, whose lives have been damaged by a Welsh Labour Government which has consistently failed to provide the strong leadership which the Welsh NHS so desperately needs.
The Welsh Conservative Party is preparing for leadership. With the promise that the Welsh NHS will deliver the improvements it so desperately needs. In September we saw the welcomed announcement from Andrew RT Davies, the Shadow Health Minister, that a Welsh Conservative Government will introduce a Patient Safety Commissioner. The Cumberledge review highlighted that patients had identified that their voices went unheard and unheeded for too long. It is vital that patients are listened to detect trends which could identify issues before such issues grow to become institutional wicked problems.
If we could turn our clocks back to 2019, before Wuhan unleashed its virus on the world, the Labour-run Welsh NHS was in crisis.
Covid-19 will exacerbate the problems we have seen develop under Labour’s 21 year’s tenure at the helm of the Welsh NHS. Next May, it’s your opportunity to vote for the Welsh Conservative party which will lead the Welsh NHS to be an organisation fit for the future of your Wales.
Carolyn Webster is a Councillor for Newcastle on Bridgend Borough County Council.