First Minister Carwyn Jones has accused Conservative politicians of treating the people of Wales as 'collateral damage' in a campaign of criticism of Labour's handling of the NHS in Wales.
Welsh Secretary, Stephen Crabb has been questioned this afternoon on the ongoing row between Westminster and the Welsh Government in Cardiff over the health service. The MP for Cardiff South and Penarth ,Stephen Doughty ,asked him if the continuing war of words was was damaging morale?
Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson said that his talks with Carwyn Jones focussed on financial powers. He said the two governments will work together where they have common aims and support each other where they have differences.
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness was speaking to our Political Editor Adrian Masters after bilateral talks between the leaders of the Welsh Government and Northern Ireland Executive.
Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams, who's often one of the fiercest critics of Welsh Labour's running of the health service, has condemned the UK Health Secretary's claims about the NHS in Wales.
Jeremy Hunt claimed that Welsh patients seeking treatment in England are causing "huge pressure" on hospitals there. He also said that the Welsh NHS is not prepared to pay for their treatment, a claim described as "nonsense" by the Welsh Government.
Kirsty Williams is AM for Brecon and Radnor, where many people have hospital treatment across the border. She has now written to Jeremy Hunt, stating that he is wrong on three counts.
Firstly, a good number of my constituents receive excellent care at The County Hospital in Hereford, and have done for many years because The County is their nearest District General Hospital. Whilst I know that there are problems in the Health service in Wales, I am alarmed that the current rhetoric might give my constituents the incorrect impression that they are not welcome or able to access treatment in Hereford, thereby putting them at risk of harm. Secondly, in terms of payment, you will well be aware that all treatment received by Powys patients in Hereford is then paid for by Powys Teaching Local Health Board. There should be no inference whatsoever that any of my constituents are receiving or expecting to receive treatment that is not then paid for. Finally, I take issue with you claiming that my constituents being treated in Hereford causes ‘great pressure’ on the system in England. Actually, having Welsh patients treated at The County Hospital helps maintain the services there by contributing significantly to the critical mass of patients needed to sustain a hospital of The County’s size.
The First Minister and deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland are due to hold talks with the Welsh First Minister later today. Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness will discuss co-operating with Carwyn Jones to seek more devolution following the promises that have been made to Scotland.
The Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond, is not expected to be present as he is preparing to hand over to his successor, Nicola Sturgeon. Once Sturgeon is in post, Welsh and Northern Irish leaders will look to discuss devolutions matters with her.
Plaid Cymru's health spokesperson Elin Jones has responded to what she calls the "turf war" between the UK and Welsh Health ministers by claiming that Wales does consistently lag behind both England and Scotland on key health indicators.
We have a Welsh Government that consistently sets itself lower targets on waiting times, access to diagnostic tests, and the ambulance service. It then fails to achieve these lower targets. When comparisons can be made between the 3 countries, then in some areas the Welsh performance is shockingly poor. Take for example, access times for an MRI scan. Only 1% of patients wait more than 6 weeks for an MRI scan in England, only 2% in Scotland, whilst 40% of Welsh patients are waiting more than 6 weeks. Other Welsh diagnostic waiting times fare no better.
The Welsh Government’s answer to this is that demand for these tests has risen. It is true that demand has risen. But the rise has been even greater in the other countries. Over a three year period, the number waiting for an MRI scan in Wales rose by 33%, in England by 41% and in Scotland by 62%. This is therefore no excuse for Wales’ unacceptably long waiting times.
Elin Jones added that Plaid Cymru wants to train and recruit 1,000 extra doctors and also re-examine the entire NHS workforce to "fundamentally realign our health and social care sector to finally integrate services fully". She claimed that it would lead to a system that could cater effectively for the elderly and frail, while keeping the NHS a free and accessible public service.
UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has replied to the Welsh Health Minister, Mark Drakeford, who'd accused him of leaking correspondence and trying to politicise an independent survey of the NHS in all parts of the United Kingdom by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
I was disappointed to receive your letter of today's date.
There is no attempt whatsoever to subvert an independent OECD report - on the contrary we would like it to go ahead so that all parts of the UK NHS can learn from each other.
I believe transparency can be the biggest single driver of improvement in healthcare but the actions of the Welsh administration in blocking the visit by OECD analysts suggest you believe otherwise.
Earlier this year, the Welsh Government gave written agreement to participate in the four nations review in response to a letter from me. In that letter, I set out a detailed timetable for the review, which included the provision that the final report should be available to all four countries from mid-February of next year.
But on a matter as important as this I do not agree with you that their findings should be withheld from the public. This is a significant piece of research that will be of benefit to healthcare quality throughout the UK. The quality of the piece of work will suffer hugely without the ability to benchmark and contrast the performance of the four home nations and I believe we owe it to taxpayers who fund the NHS to show we are willing to learn from other parts of the UK as to where our performance can be improved. So I would urge you again in the strongest terms to allow the publication to go ahead.
You claim repeatedly that the NHS in Wales is not performing worse than the NHS in England -in which case you have nothing to fear from open and independent scrutiny of the NHS in the four home nations. But your actions suggest you really believe the opposite to be the case -otherwise why would the Welsh government cancel a pre-arranged OECD study visit at short notice? Independent scrutiny of healthcare quality for the benefit of patients should be above party politics. I urge you to think about patients in Wales before you take a decision with huge ramifications for the quality of the care they receive.
The Welsh Government has flatly denied a claim made by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt at Westminster. He told MPs that the Welsh NHS was refusing to pay for an increase in the number of Welsh patients seeking treatment in English hospitals.
For every one English patient admitted for treatment in a Welsh hospital, five Welsh patients are admitted for treatment in an English hospital, which creates huge pressure for them. I have written to the Welsh Health Minister to say that the NHS is happy to treat more Welsh patients, but the trouble is that NHS Wales is not prepared to pay for it. That is why Welsh patients get a second-class health service.
Local Health Boards have arrangements in place to pay for treatment in English hospitals, any suggestion that they aren't paid is nonsense
The Welsh Government also disputes that there is any evidence of an increase in patients from Wales going to English hospitals, though they do outnumber patients travelling the other way. The Welsh NHS uses English hospitals for some specialist treatment, especially for patients from north Wales.
Welsh Government figures show that in 2010/11 there were 55,577 admissions of Welsh patients to English hospitals, in 2013/14 the figure was 53,457. In 2010/11 11.077 admissions to Welsh hospitals came form England, 10,940 in 2013/14.
As well as writing a strongly-worded letter to the UK Government's Health Secretary, the Welsh Health Minister has also written to all staff members in the NHS in Wales.
Mark Drakeford said he wanted to thank NHS workers for their efforts in the face of increasing pressure and criticism particularly 'political and media attacks.'
The text of the minister's letter is below:
I want to put on record my thanks to everyone who works in the NHS in Wales. Austerity has had a deep and lasting impact on public services across the UK but particularly in Wales, where so many people are employed by our health service and so many more people rely on these essential services for care and support.
The last few years of austerity have been difficult ones for the NHS; they have been accompanied by the additional challenges of rising demand from patients and an increase in the number of older people presenting with complex conditions. However, in the face of this demand, you have all worked hard to continue providing first class services to patients across Wales, while at the same time making the changes we need to ensure we have a health service which can continue to respond to the needs of the Welsh population into the future.
You will be aware of the political and media attacks on the welsh NHS, especially those which come outside of Wales - these will intensify as we move closer to next year's General Election. It saddens me to see our NHS used in this way and I am well aware of the negative and potentially damaging impact this can have on morale, when the service is already under pressure.
I am very proud of the work every person working in and with the NHS and social care does to support our population and I would like to thank you all personally for your efforts.