Conditions within Labour-run NHS Wales are worse than those faced by the patients neglected during the infamous Mid-Staffordshire scandal, according to relatives of those who have suffered. An investigation by the Daily Mail has uncovered incidents including patients dying whilst on the waiting list for treatment, and people who have had to move to England to access health care. Yet Labour are set to make the running of the NHS their flagship policy for the general election, claiming the broken system is only safe in their hands.
Under the Labour administration in Cardiff, which, as a devolved assembly, has had full control of the Welsh healthcare system for the last 15 years, standards in NHS Wales have dropped steadily behind those of its English counterpart. In part this is due to incompetent management, but the Welsh Assembly has also been cutting funding to the NHS by one percent a year, even as the NHS in England has had its funding increased by the same amount year on year.
Around fifty percent of Welsh cancer patients wait six weeks or more for diagnostic scans and tests. Yet in England, just six percent of patients wait that long. Consequently, 15,000 Welsh patients travel to England every year to access healthcare in a more timely manner, some renting housing in England to by-pass the long waiting lists.
Tales of botched care, neglect and cover-ups are also standard, with families complaining that it is impossible to bring their concerns to the managers. For example, Allan King died after a bowel operation in 2011 which the Public Services Ombudsman afterwards ruled was “too risky” and should never have been carried out. It concluded that staff gave misleading evidence about the treatment and hid the fact that serious complications had arisen during the procedure.
His former partner, Dorothy, was awarded £5,000 in compensation. She told the Mail: “The health board and their staff repeatedly lied to try to cover up their mistakes. It is like the Mafia. It has been a whitewash with a cover-up from beginning to end.”
Then there is Malcolm Green, a businessman who died at Withybush Hospital in Haverfordwest in 2012 after waiting five hours to be operated on for internal bleeding. It subsequently came to light that a consultant had chosen to attend a meeting rather than operate immediately, and that staff had lied about his treatment. His children have yet to receive a proper apology despite contacting the Chief Executive of the local Hywel Dda health board, and the Welsh Health Minister whose office told them to complain via a website.
“The complaints process is deliberately fitted with barriers to stop people pursuing complaints and to make them give up. In the Welsh NHS, there is a disgraceful culture to try to cover up complaints,” said Malcolm’s son John.
In other instances arrests have been made, such as the three hospital workers arrested over the death of Lilian Williams, an 82 year old lady who died at the Princess of Wales Hospital in Bridgend in 2012 just days after being admitted with a chest infection. She suffered a “catalogue of official blunders” including being unnecessarily sedated, being administered incorrect drugs – the records of which were later falsified, she was left starving and thirsty thanks to wrongful nil-by-mouth orders, and was left in agony as her prosthetic leg was not removed at night.
Her son attempted to complain to the Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University health board but said he was met with a “confrontational” response. Letters to senior Labour politicians also went ignored. Finally he appealed to police, who, after an investigation into the death, made the three arrests.
In September, the failures prompted the British Medical Association (BMA) to warn of the “imminent meltdown” of the service, and a call for a full enquiry into the failings of NHS Wales. Anecdotal evidence from the BMA suggested that the fault lies with the service’s leadership, as front line staff appear to be perfectly aware of the problems but fear losing their jobs or failing to be promoted if they speak up.
But in an extraordinary speech on the floor of the Welsh Assembly, the Welsh first minister Carwyn Jones said that there was no need for an enquiry as he had spoken to some of his former medical student flatmates about it and “not one of them agreed with the [call for an independent review] that was made. Not one.”
His remarks prompted the BMA to write to all of the Welsh Assembly Members to comment “it beggars belief that a view expressed by a handful of the first minister’s former college chums (not necessarily an impartial group) is somehow perceived to have greater validity than the collective view of doctors captured through our extensive democratic structures in Wales.”
Now the Conservatives in the Welsh Assembly have taken matters into their own hands, and commissioned a wide spread survey into the current state of affairs within NHS Wales, talking to both patients and clinical staff within the system. It found that one third of those who had recently been treated in a Welsh hospital had encountered problems with treatment, and nearly one in five felt that their concerns were not taken seriously. 71 percent backed an independent enquiry into the service, as called for by the BMA, and 60 percent believe the service has deteriorated over the last five years. The results were based on 3,295 responses to an online survey, and 5,000 posted to random homes throughout the country.
One orthopaedic consultant who participated in the survey was moved to report that the NHS in Wales is “on the verge of becoming a third-world service”. Another NHS staff member said that her ward colleagues were “stressed” as they felt “unable to keep to waiting list targets without compromising care”. And a patient told of how she had had to wait four months for an “urgent” breast scan for suspected cancer.
Commenting on the findings for ConservativeHome, Andrew Davis, the Conservative leader of the opposition in the Welsh Assembly said “it is clear that the Labour-run Welsh NHS is fast becoming one of the Conservatives’ key electoral assets ahead of next year’s general election. Ed Miliband has rather bizarrely sought to position himself as the saviour of the NHS in England. But in truth, the Welsh experience of a Labour-run health service has shown that they simply cannot be trusted anywhere near it.”
Yet Labour is making its new NHS Time to Care Fund a flagship policy for the upcoming general election next May. Speaking to the Times over the weekend, Labour leader Ed Miliband said “Labour has different values on the NHS than this Government. We believe in collaboration rather than free-market competition, in prevention not picking up the pieces, and accountability rather than undermining patients’ rights and guarantees.
“Labour has different priorities from this Government. We would raise taxes on the most expensive homes worth over £2 million in our country, hedge funds which avoid paying their fair share, and the tobacco firms whose products cause so much ill-health and suffering. This money will help pay for the investments we will make with our NHS Time to Care Fund.
“We will show that Labour’s values, Labour’s priorities and Labour’s plan can nurture and sustain our health service so it is there for our children and meets the challenges of this century as successfully as it did in the last.”
Under the plan, Labour plan to ensure that all tests for suspected cancer are carried out within a week by 2020 – with the bill for the extra infrastructure required to meet the target paid for by a new levy on tobacco firms.
When confronted by the BBC’s Today program on Radio 4 about the calls for an enquiry by the BMA, Miliband’s answers indicated that the Labour party’s priorities are about equality in healthcare, even if equality means the lowest common denominator. Today host Sarah Montague asked Miliband “are you happy for Labour to be judged on its ability in terms of running the NHS on what has happened in Wales?” after a bit of obfuscation, Miliband replies “Yeah, there are concerns, absolutely there are concerns that need to be dealt with in Wales, as there are right across the United Kingdom.
“But look, as I also say to you, right across the UK, if you look at what the Nuffield Trust says, no one health system performs particularly better than any other.”