Thursday, 18 November 2010

After the dust has settled

It's certainly been an interesting few days, made all the more so by the laying of yesterday's draft budget.

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.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Public Health Matters...

As the old saying goes, prevention is better than cure. Yet too often the need to prevent people falling ill or developing medical conditions comes second to the acute needs of those already suffering. As health budgets have been placed under enormous pressure in recent years and with increasing demands on our hospitals, the rise in the number of public health crises – such as obesity, smoking and sexually transmitted diseases - continues to go unchecked.

In these times of economic austerity, savings are being sought in every corner of the NHS in Wales as Edwina Hart and her officials take £435 million out of the NHS before the end of this financial year. But what’s the true price of Labour’s legacy to Wales and who pays for it?

With the cost of alcohol misuse in Wales at around £70-85 million and with around 1,000 deaths attributable to alcohol per year in Wales, the cost of the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG)’s ineffective policy is all too apparent. Instead of investing in tackling the root causes of alcohol misuse, the Health Minister continues to rely on the dedication of health professionals to pick up the pieces at the frontline of A&E departments, at huge expense to the taxpayer.

While the Government thinks that introducing minimum pricing on alcohol may possibly curb the incidence of drunken anti-social behaviour in the short term, it is merely the plaster that covers the bullet wound whilst penalising moderate consumers.

WAG’s approach to public health matters in Wales has been found wanting. The Labour/Plaid Coalition Government is haemorrhaging money while the statistics continue to rise. With the astronomical rise in diagnoses of sexually transmitted infections, a decade of a Labour-led government has little to show for its efforts. By 2025, around 225,000 people will have been diagnosed with diabetes; that’s over 7 per cent of the Welsh population. Unless we address these lifestyle issues underlying our public health crises, health inequalities will continue to expand meaning you are likely to live longer if you live in the Vale of Glamorgan than in the Rhondda Valley.

By refusing to protect NHS funding in Wales in real terms, the WAG is playing Russian roulette with the health of the Welsh nation.

Can we afford not to protect health spending? Simply put, the answer is no.

It’s time for a change. Not another health reorganisation. Two restructures of the NHS in Wales at a cost of more than £30 million is quite enough waste. No, what we need is a broader focus. We need a longer term view of the challenges facing Wales. We need a more holistic approach that uses the talents of health and social care professionals more effectively. We want better cohesion of services so that the focus is on prevention rather than cure. We want a wholesale change in our health behaviour.

The Welsh Conservatives are committed to getting it right now so that future generations don’t ultimately foot the bill.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Reaching out of the 'goldfish bowl'

Had an interesting chat this morning with Peter Adam Smith and his colleagues from Politics Wales, all students at JOMEC in Cardiff Uni. It was a good opportunity to redress the balance with many of their recent contributions having been made by parties other than our good selves, the Welsh Conservatives!

It was an opportunity to once again stress the need to protect health spending in Wales and to remind the public that Labour's unfortunate legacy to Wales has been cuts of £435 million to the Welsh NHS in this year alone! I have made the case on a number of occasions for ringfencing the budget, outlining key areas where we feel huge improvements to health outcomes in Wales could be made.

Firstly, we would introduce a national 'Cancer Plan' that would be implemented by a dedicated Cancer Co-ordinator. It is something that has been launched with success across the Severn Bridge and we genuinely feel that it would deliver improvements in the early diagnosis and treatment stages of cancer care. Next, we would give our struggling stroke services a much needed funding boost... Experts have damned Welsh stroke services as amongst the worst in the UK. This is simply not acceptable. These plans are costed rigorously and would be paid for by ending the unfair practice of free prescriptions for higher earners, although they would remain for 93% of medicines issued in Wales.

Peter also discussed the future of social media in politics - a fascinating subject indeed. Personally, i think that politicians have a duty to bridge the 'disconnect' in any way in which they can. If the public are changing the way they communicate then politicians should respond to that for sure. If that means using platforms like Twitter, Facebook and so on, then i'm all for it.

I do, however, feel that the fanfare with which Obama's usage of social media was greeted has placed unrealistic pressure on politicians from this side of the Atlantic. His campaign is rightly heralded but will take some doing if it is to be matched never mind improved upon over here. Politicians have been criticised for failing to make the most of the interactive potential of the internet, for failing to make the switch from 'send' to 'receive' mode... However, Obama's campaign was as much about his own personal story as it was about the methods he employed and we can't forget that!

I do think that elections in the future will be hugely influenced by social media, and i intend to maximise their usage in my own campaign. Having said that, politicians of all shades of the political spectrum need to make sure that they are reaching outside of the 'godlfish bowl', and to the public at large! (Not just to the journalists, support staff and politicians who are paid to feign interest!)