Welsh first minister Carwyn Jones has issued a stark warning the Welsh NHS faces collapse without reorganisation.
Amidst ongoing reviews by Welsh health boards of a number of services, Jones declared in an interview with the BBC’s Sunday Politics Show for Wales that to ensure services in Wales are both safe and sustainable, reconfiguration is essential.
He went on to warn:
“It would collapse otherwise – there’s no question of it. I think people want to see a safe and sustainable health service.
“I think the worst thing that could possibly happen is that nothing happens and then we see services just disappearing at random all over the place.
“People would say ‘hang on a second, why didn’t you do anything?’, and that is far, far worse.“
His comments come amidst a series of protests across Wales at decisions taken by some health boards which include plans by the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board in North Wales to transfer level three neonatal care – put in place for the most critically ill babies – to Arrowe Park on the Wirral.
With the plans looking set to be referred to ministers to make final decisions by the local patient watchdogs, the community health councils (CHCs), Jones was unable to comment on individual circumstances. However, pressed during his interview, he concluded the reorganisations would not have an adverse political impact on Welsh Labour.
“I think that people will see that what we are trying to do is to have a safe and sustainable health service.”
Wales would have to get used to the idea of relying on services in England, he added, concluding:
“We can’t replicate the entire British NHS here in Wales.
“There are some conditions that are so specialised that they can only be treated in specialised centres, like Great Ormond Street [children's hospital in London]. We’re not going to replicate that in Wales.
“It’s about ensuring that we have safe and sustainable services that are available to the people of Wales.”
Declaring the first minister’s interview amounted to a “masterclass in how to avoid responsibility”, Conservative AM, Angela Burns, argued there had not been enough of a debate over future services.
“Everybody recognises the NHS has to change, but where we haven’t had a proper debate is about what are deemed essential services.
“What we’re having at the moment is the health boards and deanery saying ‘we can’t get these people or those kind of people and you can only have that and you’ll have to go elsewhere for other things’.
“That simply isn’t acceptable, we need to talk about what we need locally.”
The weekend interviews come just weeks after Wales’s Chief Medical Officer warned of the NHS facing a “perfect storm”.
Pointing to challenges such as an ageing population, Dame Deirdre Hine told BBC Radio Wales:
“We have what amounts to a perfect storm of challenges to the NHS in Wales.
“We have an ageing population – a good thing, we’re keeping people alive longer. We also have in Wales a historically high burden of disease and disability.
“You then have to factor in the major advances in ability to treat that come with a requirement for expensive kit and highly-specialised expert teams of health professionals. And we have an economic recession.”
In concluding it is “not surprising that the health boards are making proposals for changes”, she nevertheless said questions still needed to be answered, explaining:
“Are the community services and the social services needed to support them up to the task of taking on 24-hour responsibility for frail, sick people?
“Is the ambulance service able to provide rapid transfer to centres at possible greater distance than people have currently to travel? Is this going to be more or less expensive?“
• Wales will fight the Tory dismantling of the NHS – February 24th, 2012
• Jones pledges to listen to NHS staff as Cameron leaves them out in the cold – February 20th, 2012
• Wales to see increase in health spending as Lansley accused of dismantling NHS – October 5th, 2011