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"If Wales isn't worse, you've nothing to fear" - Hunt

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.

– Letter from Jeremy Hunt MP
  1. Lynn Courtney

Health Minister: 90% support smoking ban in cars carrying children

The Health Minister, Mark Drakeford AM, says despite an increase in the numbers of people who don't smoke in cars when children are present there is still a stubborn percentage of people who still do. He says he wants to close that gap and introducing the law will make the final difference.

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Health survey findings: 50% being treated for illness

The annual Welsh Health Survey found half of adults reported currently being treated for an illness, and only around a third eating the recommended fruit and vegetables, or being physically active five days in the previous week.

Here are the key findings:

  • 50% of adults reported currently being treated for an illness, including high blood pressure or respiratory illness
  • 33% of adults reported that their day-to-day activities were limited because of a health problem or disability
  • 20% of adults reported fair or poor general health
  • 21% of adults reported they currently smoke
  • 42% of adults reported drinking above the guidelines on at least one day in the past week
  • 33% of adults reported eating five or more portions of fruit and vegetables the previous day
  • 29% of adults reported being physically active on five or more days in the past week
  • 58% of adults were classified as overweight or obese

Health Minister: Too many have damaging lifestyles

Wales' Health Minister has warned that "too many people are making lifestyle choices that are damaging their health and endangering their lives."

He was speaking as the annual Welsh Health Survey is published, showing 50 per cent of adults are currently being treated for illness, 21 per cent smoke, and 58 per cent are overweight or obese.

Mark Drakeford said damaging lifestyles were putting 'massive pressure' on the NHS.

Mark Drakeford said: "We have seen progress, with a two per cent drop in the number of people smoking and a small decline in in levels of drinking."

“These findings show once again that Wales faces challenges when it comes to tackling some of our most stubborn lifestyle behaviours, which we know can contribute to health problems."

“This is why we have set out radical proposals in our Public Health White Paper to take action to protect our nation’s health, including introducing a minimum unit price for alcohol, restricting the use of e-cigarettes."

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Clinical experts appointed to improve health services

The clinical leads will aim to improve areas of the health service. Credit: Jens Kalaene/dpa

Three new national clinical leads will be appointed to help improve planned care services, stroke and diabetes care.

The clinical lead for stroke will aim to reduce the number of people who suffer a stroke and help increase survival rates, the lead for diabetes will focus on the care of those diagnosed with the condition, whilst the lead for planned care will aim to reduce waiting times across the health service.

"Our health service faces the combined challenges of austerity, an ageing population, more people living with long-term conditions and advances in new medicines...Planning the care we provide across the NHS is crucial to improving our efficiency" - Mark Drakeford, Health Minister.

  1. Megan Boot

New way of measuring cancer waiting times trialled

A new way of measuring waiting times for cancer treatment is being trialled across Wales in a bid to improve patient care.

Doctors say the current targets - where patients need to be treated within 62 or 31 days, depending on how they are referred - is too 'blunt' an instrument.

But the Conservatives say the Welsh Government is simply scrapping targets it has failed to meet since 2008.

Minister blames bad weather for ambulance delays

The Health Minister, Mark Drakeford, has told AMs that "sustained extreme weather conditions" explain why only 52.8% of ambulances responding to category A emergencies last month got to the patient within the eight minute target. He was answering an urgent question in the Senedd.

It ill-behoves us, sitting here in the comfort of the National Assembly, to take no account of the conditions which people delivering those services faced during February.

– Health Minister Mark Drakeford AM

Kirsty Williams, for the Liberal Democrats, said that the Welsh Government had not been able to deliver the ambulance service that Wales needs and deserves. The Conservatives and Plaid Cymru both argued that ambulance times should not have got worse since January, when there was also bad weather.

The Minister said there had been a cumulative effect and he had come close to suspending response time targets altogether on police advice. Earlier today he announced new targets, for how soon a patient receives effective treatment, which he said were more relevant than ambulance response times.

The eight minute target does nothing to help outcomes for the patients... [but] ...as we have moved out of February and into March the performance has improved.

– Health Minister Mark Drakeford AM

Crucial changes need to be made to the NHS this year

The Welsh NHS Confederation argue that time is running out to make crucial changes to the NHS and that tough decisions need to be made to this year.

The Director of the Welsh NHS Confederation, Helen Birtwhistle, says there are problems with providing services for patients under a model of hospital care that was 'devised more than 50 years ago'.

The news comes as health bosses are meeting today to discuss the future of the service. The Welsh Government says reconfiguration is underway to ensure services aren't spread too thinly.

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