A new pay offer to NHS workers from the Welsh Government means that the Unison union has called off a half-day strike planned for next Monday. The details of the improved offer have not been released but it means that industrial action, due to hit the English NHS later this month, may be avoided in Wales.
These new proposals are a significant improvement for our members and the result of weeks of tough negotiations with the Welsh Government. It is right that our NHS members now have a say and we will consult our members on the new proposals.
The dispute began when the UK Government rejected a pay review recommendation of a 1% increase and the Welsh government decided that it couldn't afford to pay the rise either. Instead it offered a one-off payment of £160 to all Welsh NHS staff apart from doctors, dentists and senior managers. The 2,400 lowest paid workers got more -up to £470, as a result of a commitment to at least pay the living wage.
Unison rejected that offer and called a strike ballot, 77% of the members who took part voted in favour. The union argued that the workforce could not be expected to plug the funding gap in the Welsh NHS.
Unions have traditionally been reluctant to see an end to pay being set on a UK-wide or England-and-Wales basis. But today's announcement from Unison, comes after the Fire Brigades Union in Wales called off a strike over its pensions dispute. The Welsh Government has offered to consult on a possible solution. Firefighters still walked out in England, where the union felt the government was not willing to compromise.
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.
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.
The Welsh Conservatives are calling for locally elected health commissioners to take over from health boards, which they say are subject to political patronage as their appointed by ministers.
Communities across Wales have felt powerless to influence the decisions which have been made about health services in their areas. The Welsh NHS must become more accountable to those it serves and more responsive to the taxpayers who fund it.
Elected Health Commissioners will put the patient voice at the heart of decision making in the NHS, transferring decision making over health services from central government and into the hands of the people.
You vote them in, and you vote them out - that's our vision for patient voice in the Welsh NHS.
The Conservatives claim that the new system would lead to greater openness, as the commissioners would be publicly answerable when something went wrong in the running of the health service. Labour have dismissed the proposal as a waste of money.
This month the Welsh Labour Government announced nearly half a billion pounds of extra funding to secure our safe, modern NHS, free at the point of use. Now the Tories want to cream off some of that money, take it away from the front-line and put it into the pockets of Health Commissioners. What planet are they living on? Welsh Labour is on the side of patients and NHS staff, we want health money spent on health services, not another layer of bureaucracy.
Ann Clwyd says there is a fear of speaking out when things go wrong in the Welsh NHS.
Speaking to an Assembly Committee, the Cynon Valley MP who reviewed the complaints system for the English NHS, says staff, patients and their families should feel free to complain without the fear of consequences.
Labour MP Ann Clwyd is to give evidence the Assembly health committee today, as part of a wider review of patients' complaints about Welsh hospitals.
The Cynon Valley MP complained about the conditions her late husband endured before he died at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff.
She went on to carry out a review of hospitals in England for the UK Government.
Previous attempts by opposition parties to invite Ms Clwyd to give evidence at the Senedd were blocked by Labour AMs. They said it was 'constitutionally inappropriate' to invite a backbench MP from Westminster.
The decision was later overturned.
Welsh MPs are to investigate the effects on people living along the border of increasingly different health services in Wales and England. It'll be the second time that the Welsh Affairs Committee has held an inquiry into cross-border health issues.
The MPs will look at how well or otherwise the two systems work with each other after officials agreed a Protocol in 2013. They'll also look at the experience of patients living either in Wales or England who rely on the NHS on the other side of the border.
A spokesperson says that the committee won't take evidence about the quality of care either in Wales or England.
Responding to the Nuffield Trust report, Health Minister Mark Drakeford said the NHS is facing a number of challenges:
The report also recognises further potential for additional long-term savings, which the NHS can make if it continues to reform and reshape services.
The Finance Minister and I will now work together over the summer to determine what more we can do to support new models of service delivery that strengthen the care and support provided in local communities, and respond to the challenges identified in this report”
The Nuffield Trust report says if the NHS does not receive additional funding, it would have to improve productivity at a record rate and sustain it for a period of time in order to close the financial gap of £2.5bn by 2025/26.
This would have to be at a rate not seen in the history of the NHS or other countries' health systems.
Adam Roberts, lead author and Senior Analyst at the Nuffield Trust said:
“Our analysis reveals, for the first time, the scale of the task ahead regarding the Welsh NHS’s finances.
"Money for the service is already tight – NHS funding is likely to be 3.6% lower in real terms at the end of the next financial year than it was in 2010/11 – but the big unknown is what will happen after the 2015 spending review.
The pressures facing the NHS in Wales outlined in the report include:
- Population growth
- Longer life expectancy
- Rising number of prescriptions
- Staff wages
Pressures on the NHS in Wales mean it could face a funding gap of £2.5bn by 2025/26, according to a report by the Nuffield Trust think tank.
The research suggests the shortfall - the result of 'rising costs' and 'tight' public finances - would occur if funding only rises in line with inflation after 2015/16.