The Shadow Health Minister, Darren Millar, who also chairs the Assembly's public accounts committee, says today's audit report on the Welsh NHS shows that problems are being stored up and that treatment delays are increasing.
The report from the Auditor General for Wales highlights the substantial financial challenge facing Wales’s health boards and points to unsustainable savings which have impacted on patient care and services in the last financial year. That some health boards delayed planned surgery in order to break even, leaving thousands of people waiting for much needed treatment, only causes further problems down the line.
The deterioration of performance in some key areas, including cancer waiting times and accident and emergency performance, is also deeply concerning, as is the growing backlog of maintenance on the NHS estate.
– Shadow Health Minister Darren Millar AM
His Liberal Democrat colleague, Aled Roberts, said the Welsh NHS has been "catastrophically mismanaged" by the Welsh Government.
The Welsh NHS is under a colossal amount of strain. The report notes that the NHS is likely to struggle to sustain current levels of service and performance. Wales has the longest ambulance waiting times in any part of mainland UK, cancer waiting times not met since 2008 and A&E targets that have never been met. To think some of our NHS services could continue to deteriorate further is shocking. The truth is the Welsh Labour Government has catastrophically mismanaged our NHS and it is the people of Wales who are paying the price for Labour’s failure.
– Public Accounts Committee member Aled Roberts AM
In a statement in response to the report by the Wales Audit Office, Health Minister Mark Drakeford said more flexibility will be introduced to allow organisations to manage their finances over more than one financial year.
In 2012 we started moving towards greater transparency and the measurement of outcomes which provide a renewed focus on patient quality and safety, particularly in the light of the Francis Report.
I will be introducing legislation to provide more flexibility to organisations to manage their finances over more than one financial year. I hope to implement these changes at the start of the new financial year in April 2014.
The Wales Audit Office report on the Welsh NHS shows how Wales is falling behind the other home nations in health spending. England will soon be ahead of Wales in terms of spending per head, Northern Ireland already spends more and Scotland has always done so.
The Welsh NHS did not to overspend in 2012/13 but only met its financial targets by postponing some patients' non-urgent treatment and other 'unsustainable' measures. The Wales Audit Office also found some key services had got worse and that it will be a struggle to avoid a further deterioration.
The Welsh NHS has worked hard to achieve financial break-even in 2012-13. But breaking-even is a small part of the story. NHS bodies reported around £190 million of savings in 2012-13: a significant sum despite being some £100 million less than the previous year. Some of these reported savings appear to be overstated and NHS bodies are reliant on unsustainable one-off savings to achieve break-even. Some NHS bodies reduced planned procedures to help them manage emergency service and financial pressures.
Service performance on some key patient-focused areas has worsened. Waiting times for planned treatments have deteriorated over the past three years, with a growing number of patients waiting more than six months for their treatment. Performance in emergency care has also fallen although the reasons for this are complex- emergency departments are increasingly stretched meaning patients are waiting longer to be treated or admitted than in the past three years.”
– Auditor General for Wales Huw Vaughan Thomas
The audit report says public spending cuts will last for several more years, with most of the easy saving already made. It sees reconfiguration of hospital services as the best hope for a sustainable Welsh NHS but "the pace of change is restricted by significant public and political opposition".