Posted: Mon 14th Aug 2023

We’re doing better than England! – Wales’ Health Minister slams UK Health Secretary’s “naked political hit”

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Monday, Aug 14th, 2023

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Wales’ Health Minister has said an invite from her counterpart in England to help bring down Welsh NHS waiting lists is nothing more than a “naked political hit in the middle of the silly season.”

And she said the NHS in Wales was doing better than in England in many areas.

The UK government’s Health and Social Care Secretary, Steve Barclay, has penned an invitation to the devolved administrations in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland to discuss collaboration on tackling long-term waiting lists in the NHS.

NHS services across the UK are a devolved matter, but Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made cutting waiting lists a priority across the UK.

As of June, hospital waiting lists in England reached a record 7.57 million people. Amidst these numbers, Mr Barclay stated that he was open to the idea of Scottish and Welsh patients being treated in England.

In his letter, Mr Barclay said he would “be open to considering any request from you for patients waiting for lengthy periods for treatment in Scotland and Wales to be able to choose from alternate providers in England – NHS or independent sector.”

Mr Barclay also notes significant variations in waiting times among the different nations.

He states: “In England, we are delivering on the actions set out in the NHS’s Elective Recovery Implementation Plan published last February.”

“Our target to virtually eliminate waits of longer than two years by July 2022 was achieved on time and waits for treatment of more than 78 weeks have been virtually eliminated.”

“Although data is not collected on the same basis across the UK, recent figures show more than 73,000 people are waiting over 77 weeks for treatment in Wales, and at least 21,600 people are waiting over 78 weeks for an outpatient, day case or inpatient appointment in Scotland.”

Health Minister Eluned Morgan dismissed Mr Barclay’s claims as political manoeuvring.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4 today, Ms Morgan argued that the English and Welsh systems measure waiting times differently and highlighted areas where Wales has made significant strides.

Ms Morgan dismissed Mr Barclay’s invitation as “political fever time… they’re taking this opportunity to try and distract attention from the fact that they have 7.5 million people waiting on their waiting lists,” she said.

Ms Morgan said: “The fact is, that we measure very differently. I think we’re far more honest with the public in Wales in terms of our waiting times; we count in our statistics diagnostics and therapies.”

“None of those are counted in the English figures.”

“So of course we are still challenged. We’re all still getting over the pandemic. We do have waiting lists that are too long in Wales. But it’s a situation that is not considerably better in England.”

Internal statistics seen by The Telegraph show that 39,485 Welsh residents were admitted for “elective” treatment in England in 2022/23, up from 28,405 in 2020-21, a near 40% rise.

Ms Morgan said the figures being used “were from 2020 to 21 and that was, of course, right bang in the middle of the COVID pandemic, where there was very little elective surgery going on.”

“If you take the same figures, we actually saw a 55% increase in the number of English people being treated in Wales.”

She said: “It’s important to get the whole picture on this, but I think also, there are some lessons that England could learn from us here in Wales; we’ve actually made considerable strides already in terms of getting rid of the 8 am bottleneck, for example, by changing the GP contract.”

The revised contract makes it clear the practice of releasing appointments daily at 8 am is no longer acceptable.

Instead, the new GP access commitment will help ensure people are triaged appropriately and if an appointment is needed, people receive one, which is right for their clinical needs.

The Nuffield Trust’s comparisons concerning patients waiting more than four hours in A&E highlight that Wales was previously worse than England.

Ms Morgan said the comparison is no longer accurate, as there have been improvements over the last eight months.

She said: “It’s really important that you get the most up to date figures. We’ve had a comprehensive approach to dealing with urgent and emergency care in Wales and that’s really starting to bear fruit, and so would.”

She admitted that challenges remain with waiting lists, but emphasised areas where Wales is performing better, including access to GPs, emergency departments, ophthalmology services, and mental health care transformation.

On the matter of Mr Barclay being open to patients in Wales requesting care in England, Ms Morgan said: “Well, if it’s a free offer, I’ll be taking up on that offer. But my guess is that it’s not, and the real question is where on earth would he find the capacity from England when he’s got 7.5 million people waiting for treatment there.”

She said the invitation from Mr Barclay was nothing more than a “naked political hit in the middle of the silly season. That’s what this is about.”

“I think it’s really important that he should concentrate on his job and I’ll concentrate on mine.”

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