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Northern Irish leaders meet First Minister for talks

Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness are both due to meet Carwyn Jones Credit: Lewis Whyld/PA

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.

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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

Hunt's wrong about patients from Wales says Welsh Govt

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.

– Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt MP

Local Health Boards have arrangements in place to pay for treatment in English hospitals, any suggestion that they aren't paid is nonsense

– Welsh Government Spoikesperson

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.

Health Minister's 'thankyou' to NHS staff

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.

– Mark Drakeford AM, Health Minister

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Welsh minister blasts UK Government's 'tissue of lies'

The Welsh Health Minister has written to Jeremy Hunt, the UK Government's Health Secretary, accusing him of 'being grossly discourteous and demeaning' of his office by allowing the leak of private correspondence between the two governments.

The accusations follow news coverage of a dispute over plans to allow scrutiny of health services in all four of the UK's nations by the international body, the OECD.

Reports, based on leaked documents, claimed that the Welsh Government was refusing to participate. The Welsh Government says it and the governments of Scotland and Northern Ireland were concerned that the exercise had been hijacked for political reasons.

Now Health Minister Mark Drakeford has written to the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt in very strong terms. The text of the letter is below:

I write in reply to your letter of yesterday's date. As a direct result of it, this is a final request for you to adhere to the normal conventions surrounding the publication of independent reports and end your attempts to subvert the process. If you do not, we will have to consider commissioning and publishing our own independent study by the OECD in a way which does not risk contamination by the overt politicisation of the process for which you are directly responsible.

The assertion in your letter that you feel you have a right to quote selectively from an unpublished report in the lead up to the General Election is truly shocking - it flies in the face of every principle of the proper conduct of public life. Your failure to clearly and openly set out such an intention at the time when the study was commissioned will appear to some to be deliberate and deceptive.

The NHS in Wales will not be the victim of any Conservative party ploy to drag its reputation through the mud for entirely partisan political purposes.

At a time when the four home nations of the UK need to be working closely together to address the threat of Ebola, your willingness to put the interests of your party above those of the public is especially reprehensible. By the time your letter, marked Official-Sensitive, arrived at my office, it had already been handed to one of your backbench MPs and to the London media. That was grossly discourteous and demeaning of the office you are privileged to hold. As it has already been used to augment the tissue of lies which are told on behalf of your party, you will not be surprised that I have decided that this letter too will be available for publication.

– Mark Drakeford AM, Health Minister
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