One of the greatest achievements of the Labour Government was the founding of the NHS on the principle that healthcare would be free at the point of need. The commitment to this maxim remains undimmed – both Vaughan Gething and Jeremy Miles, the two candidates to succeed Mark Drakeford as First Minister, are unwavering in their commitment to the principle. For Vaughan the NHS quite literally saved his life when he was battling a kidney disease in the year after his A-levels. We all rely on the NHS, and it is utterly critical for the health and well-being of our great nation.
There is no doubt though that the pressures on the NHS are greater than they ever have been: the COVID pandemic, the rising of chronic diseases and an ageing society have all created a perfect storm. The political choices made by the Tories in Westminster since 2010 have made matters worse – health spending has risen by only 15% while Germany have increased theirs by 39%. The NHS is also not immune to the wider economic picture of austerity and record levels of inflation.
In this context we must be decisive when looking to future to ensure that the NHS can modernise and provide the high-quality care that the people of Pembrokeshire and Wales deserve. We cannot continue along the path where Hywel Dda rely on agency workers that on average cost 20% more than internal staff and where the lack of state-of-the-art facilities mean emergency operations disrupt planned procedures causing further rises in waiting lists. We must bring healthcare home and prevent Pembrokeshire residents having to travel to Cardiff or Swansea for complicated medical procedures.
The strategy of the Welsh Government has centred on supporting and treating people close to their home and in their local community with a focus on prevention and early intervention. Over 50% of their budget is spent on health – 9% more than in England and 43% more on social care. Furthermore, there has been a concerted effort to tackle the problem of 8am bottleneck of GP appointments by providing more ways to access appointments and advice and an increase in the number of GPs working in Wales. Mental health funding is ring-fenced, and a nationwide 111 press 2 service has been rolled out as mental health is given parity with physical health. There is also no penalty for getting ill in Wales as prescriptions are free as is parking in NHS hospitals.
To ensure that the NHS remains free at the point of use for the next 75 years we have to be brave. We want our children and grandchildren to grow old in a society where its most fundamental aim is to provide a life free of untreated illness and unmet care needs. Labour can be trusted with the NHS and a Labour Government in Westminster working with a Welsh Labour Government in Cardiff will be relentless in delivering a reformed and sustainable service with the funding it needs to thrive.
You can read the article in the Pembrokeshire Herald on page 66 here.