Is reorganisation the way forward for the NHS in Wales?

Darren Millar AM says maintaining existing hospital services would be best for healthcare in Wales.

The Welsh National Health Service has been run by Labour since 1999; the start of devolution. Throughout those 15 years the shape of our NHS has changed dramatically, yet performance has deteriorated significantly. The last five years alone have seen emergency departments threatened with closure, hospitals downgraded and closed, services axed and minor injury units given the boot. In turn, more people than ever are waiting over nine months for a hospital appointment; a four hour A and E waiting time target hasn’t been met since 2009; and ambulance response times were so bad, that Labour Ministers scrapped them.

At the last Assembly election in 2011, Labour promised no hospital closures or downgrading. Yet since 2011, community after community has been forced to accept just that. Patients across the country must now travel further for treatment – it simply isn’t fair. The NHS workforce is not corporately at fault, nor will it ever be. It’s a national treasure and the hardworking staff within it deserve our support and thanks. The blame for these failures lies with those sitting around the cabinet table in Cardiff – Welsh Labour Ministers. It is here where a decision was made in 2010 to savagely cut the NHS budget in Wales in real terms – starving the frontline of more than one billion pounds over the past five years – and it is here where closures and reorganisation have been rubber-stamped and given the green light. I wholeheartedly disagree with many of those decisions and that’s why I’m promising no destructive reorganisation of the NHS under the Welsh Conservatives. Not only that – but reopening a number of key minor injury units closed by Labour would be an immediate focus for an incoming Welsh Conservative government.

No reorganisation. No hospital closures. More minor injuries units. That’s our pledge, just four months from a Welsh general election that will set the future direction for our National Health Service. We would maintain all existing emergency departments and re-establish minor injury units in community hospitals which have seen theirs axed by the Labour government – in Newtown, Tenby and Colwyn Bay and in the Rhyl/Prestatyn area. We would also re-establish paediatric and special care baby services at Withybush hospital, where Labour’s NHS reorganisation in west Wales has resulted in care for the most premature and sick babies being moved from Haverfordwest to accommodation which is not fit for purpose in Camarthen. Under Labour, the number of patients and relatives forced to travel further for essential services is rocketing. No more, under Welsh Conservatives. It’s time to put an end to this unwanted strategy and – with a fresh approach and effective funding – that’s exactly what we would do. In contrast to Labour’s legacy of cuts, closures and downgrades, we are making a commitment to secure, re-open and widen access to NHS services in Wales.

Not only would local services be safe with a Welsh Conservative government, but we would also work hard to expand the role of our community hospitals. Working with staff and health boards, we would provide funding to boost innovation and improve the patient experience. The establishment of a 20 million pounds Community Hospital Development Fund would encourage the innovative use of these sites across Wales.

We also need to address standards of care in parts of our health service. I have long called for an independent Wales-wide independent inquiry into the way patients are cared for here and its introduction would also be a top priority for a Welsh Conservative government. Recent years have seen too many scandals and too many horrific stories of neglect and mistreatment. We urgently need to root out bad practice and put measures in place to safeguard our health service for future generations. Labour has refused a full inquiry. I would introduce one.

We make these commitments alongside others we have already announced, for a properly protected health budget, one hundred new ambulance service staff, a five year 100 million pounds Cancer Patients’ Fund – introducing a national mobile treatment service and improving access to modern cancer drugs; these are just some of the plans that we have for our NHS and in the coming weeks there will be more.

May’s Assembly election will have a significant impact upon support for those working for our NHS and standards of patient care in Wales. The choice before voters will be simple – more of the same with a Labour government that’s ruled Wales alone or with junior partners for 17 years or a clear alternative and competent leadership with Welsh Conservatives.

Remember, there will be no NHS reorganisations, no hospital closures and more minor injuries units under a Welsh Conservative government. Staff and patients would come first and the axe that currently hangs over frontline services will be removed. Wales needs change and only we can deliver it.

Darren Millar AM is the Shadow Minister for Health. He is the Assembly Member for Clwyd West.

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