Government confident Welsh NHS can deal with winter pressures

(Title Image: Wales Online)

The Senedd (Conservative Debate):

  • Expresses concern at the capacity of the Welsh NHS to meet demand for services throughout the year, not just in the winter.
  • Notes that year-round pressures hinder the ability of the NHS to provide consistent and equitable access to out-of-hours, critical care and ambulance services.
  • Calls upon the Welsh Government to develop a national plan to address pressures on out-of-hours, critical care and ambulance services.

A consistent failure

Shadow Health Secretary, Angela Burns AM (Con. Carms. W. & S. Pembs.) opened by saying pressure on unplanned care was a year-round problem, not just confined to the winter months. Welsh hospitals experienced a collective 1,395 days of “extreme pressure” during 2016-17 alone.

“In ABMU last year, 19 per cent of all out-of-hours shifts were unfilled. Hywel Dda cannot fill some 1,500 hours of GP-led out-of-hours. On 12 separate occasions, Cardiff and Vale had no GP cover across the whole health board for a period of time, and in Aneurin Bevan, that situation occurred on 27 different days.”
– Shadow Health Secretary, Angela Burns AM

While Angela supported the principle behind the Welsh Government’s desire to see patients treated in the community instead of hospitals, those community services had to be there in the first place. The NHS had to retain some flexibility to deal with out-of-the-ordinary circumstances.

Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn) said the problem was a general increase in the number of vulnerable patients who have year-round problems and in different sorts of weather – colds etc. during the winter and dehydration during the summer. He called for more preventative services and a greater emphasis placed on social care.

“On a frustratingly regular basis, I’ve raised cases of third sector bodies providing effective preventative services that have lost their funding because of dumb commissioning that is adding millions to the cost pressure on statutory health and care services…..We promoted at national level the role of community hospitals in providing quality accessible local healthcare and reducing pressure on our general hospitals. After 2011, Labour pushed ahead with the closures, with the inevitable consequences we warned of.”
– Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales)

Where’s our £4billion?

Naturally, Labour AMs took to defending the Welsh Government’s record. Dawn Bowden AM (Lab, Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney) asked where the additional £4billion Wales would’ve received if the block grant had increased in line with economic growth was?

She accused England of ignoring social care, while both England and Scotland are replicated the “traffic light” ambulance response model that the Tories have consistently criticised.

Janet Finch-Saunders AM (Con, Aberconwy) said extra money – up to £1.2billion – was on the way due to a £20billion spending increase in England.

“…..with such a busy system and a staff shortage, of course we’re going to have waiting lists, people having to work far too hard and so forth and so on. That’s why, as a party, we want to open a new medical school in Bangor. We have to train more doctors in the first place. We have to develop more of them, because we don’t produce enough doctors at present, and even if everyone who graduated these days stayed to work in Wales, we still wouldn’t have enough doctors to serve our population.”
– Dr Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South Wales West)

In reply, the Health Secretary, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth) outlined a number of Welsh Government commitments to reduce pressure on hospital services, including the roll-out of a 111 (non-emergency) helpline and integrating health and social care – though he warned that there were “unavoidable consequences of Tory austerity”.


I should probably explain, for the sake of clarity, that I only record the vote on the original motion because that’s ultimately what these debates are about. Only when the party that tabled the original motion agrees to any amendments do I record the vote on the motion as amended.

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