We've been taking the debate to the Labour/Plaid coalition in recent days, making a passionate case for health to be protected from the cuts that were inevitably going to make things more difficult than in previous years.
I won't rehash the arguments for tackling the deficit in the manner in which the Westminster coalition has been required to; only to observe that this was a draft budget that was all about priorities... And did the Budget Minister deliver?
Well, it's clear that the Lab/Plaid coalition don't share ours. We have committed to protect the health budget, just as it has been in England, meaning that it would grow in terms of inflation over the next four years. Of course difficult decisions will need to be made elsewhere, but we have made the health of the nation a key priority. As Shadow Finance Minister, Nick Ramsey, said earlier today, our figures will be published just as they always have been, to indicate just how we propose to balance the books. And of course our proposals will be judged on their own merits in the same way in which the people of Wales are judging the Assembly government's today...
We've had our finest mathematicians on the job and the results of yesterday's announcements are shocking! What is presented as a 'stand-still' budget actually turns out to be a cut in real terms of nearly £900 million over the next three years.
To simplify, that's:
- The salaries of 41,818 nurses for a year
- 140,000 coronary bypass operations
- 868,189 bed days in intensive care baby units
- The development of more than 100 dedicated stroke units
...A huge sum of cuts that the health service in Wales neither needs or can afford.
This isn't about political point-scoring, or about adopting a populist position to gain a few votes. It's about the future of the NHS in Wales, and the health of the people it is there to serve. At a time when both Westminster and the Scottish Government are taking steps to invest in the health budget, we simply cannot afford to be left behind.