In recent months the Welsh NHS has been the subject of intense media focus – all too often for the wrong reasons.
We regularly hear that waiting time targets have been missed, that ambulance response times are poor and that access to life-prolonging cancer treatments is worse here than for patients in England.
Sir Bruce Keogh, who undertook a comprehensive inquiry into the mid Staffordshire trust in England, has raised his concerns over high mortality rates in Welsh hospitals, whilst senior Labour MP Ann Clwyd has repeatedly backed calls from our party for a Keogh-style inquiry into standards of care in the Welsh NHS.
Here in the Assembly, the group I lead work to raise these concerns and to campaign for improvements to the running of the Welsh NHS. NHS clinicians and support staff work extremely hard and it is they, and in some worrying cases, the patients, who are being let down by the Welsh Labour Government.
As an opposition party we have a duty to hold the Welsh Government to account. We take no pleasure in bad news, but it is surely our job to highlight areas where improvement is needed and can be achieved.
I’m not pretending for a moment that we have all the answers; that requires constructive co-operation with NHS staff, clinicians and other healthcare experts. But it also requires a willingness to listen to patients and their families, to be brave enough to accept that we can and must learn from some of the difficult and distressing experiences that they have faced.
Let’s be clear, we know that there are issues in the NHS – your NHS – but we also know that there are plenty of things that it continues to do brilliantly and the staff deserve immense credit for their dedication. We are proud of the hard work of NHS staff, who do a remarkable job under challenging circumstances.
But Carwyn Jones cannot afford to bury his head in the sand, or to pretend that any criticism of his government is mere politics. The Soviet-like refusal of successive Health Ministers to accept constructive criticism has deeply harmed the reputation of the Welsh Government and by proxy the Welsh NHS. Needlessly.
It’s time to listen, and if Welsh Labour won’t then we will.
Last week I launched a public consultation on the Welsh NHS. We want to hear the experiences of patients who have received healthcare in Wales; ranging from the ease with which you can arrange a GP appointment, to the local availability of NHS dentistry, or the quality of hospital food.
The survey aims to capture your views on a range of issues related to healthcare in Wales and we want to hear the good news as well as the bad; we want you to highlight the areas in which you feel the Welsh NHS performs well, not just the areas in which it could improve. This survey will help us to better understand the type of NHS you expect and want to see taking shape over the next few years.
The Welsh Conservatives know that it’s not good enough to merely assume that we know what the public are thinking; that only leads to ineffective decision-making. This consultation will enable us to identify key areas of concern and address topics that really matter to you. The results will help us to channel our policy development and ensure our future policies are shaped by your opinions and concerns.
As the leader of the largest party of opposition in Wales it is my duty to ensure that your concerns are raised – but also to recognise and champion best practice where it exists.
I hope that you will find time to complete this survey and if you use social media please do share it with friends, family and colleagues. We want everyone to have their say.