Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Opposition move on health minister

There always seems to be a raising of the temperature as politicians are about to embark on their summer holidays. So today the opposition politicians have worked themselves into a rage as to whether a report prepared by an academic is truly independent or not. 
Such questions are not normally the subject of debates in the Assembly.  Normally an academic’s report is neither here nor there. Why is this one so special then. It’s about the services provided by local hospitals. 
And yes, there is no bigger political football to be kicked than the threat to a service delivered by a local hospital. 
Politicians of all parties want to get in on the act. Why? Because such services matter to the voter. Politicians always like to be seen to be on the side of Mr and Mrs Angry. 
Ministers when they take an unpopular decision like to have some fig leaf to justify their action. Lesley Griffith the Health Minister is no exception. 
Faced with the rising costs of providing for the health of the nation and with no cash in her ministerial purse the Health Minister is on a hiding to nothing. She can’t let things go on without changes. Cuts are inevitable. 
So enter stage left, Professor Marcus Longley. He takes to the stage waving a report entitled “Best configuration of hospital services for Wales: A Review of the Evidence.” Not the most sexy of titles. But for you and me it’s about how best the hospitals can deliver health care.
After lots of ifs and buts the report comes to a conclusion. And a key element of that conclusion “The case is really quite strong, in Wales as elsewhere in the UK, that some acute hospital services should now be reconfigured.”
Manna from heaven to a Minister that knows she has to take unpalatable decisions. Here she has an acknowledged expert in his field saying that Welsh people would have a better health service if some services were moved from some hospitals to centres of excellence. 
Better Health and cheaper too. Little wonder that government and government backbenchers have being brandishing the “independent” report as proof that when government is closing a ward in your local hospital, it is better for all your collective health. Even when you don't know it yourself. Poor dear, it's for your own good.
Opposition politicians  don’t like the current governments policy. They support rationalising services in the abstract but not cuts to hospitals on their patch. Not an unknown stance for a politician to take. 
Now the Opposition smell red meat in e-mail exchanges that arise out of a Freedom of Information request. The e-mails superficially suggest that the research was not “independent.”
They come to this conclusion based on exchanges between the good Professor and Senior Civil servants in the Health Ministry.  The three opposition parties see these as collusion to somehow doctor the research.
If they can make the story stick they hope to get a ministerial scalp. Stop the changes to local hospitals in their track. There is little evidence that either outcome is likely to happen.
They’ve mounted a campaign on slender evidence. Yes, there have been naive exchanges between the Professor and a senior civil servant. But does it amount to collusion on the scale that the opposition are suggesting. The answer is no. 
Professor Langley is well known for his advocacy of fundamental changes to the way that health is delivered. It would have been a shock if he’d reached any other conclusion. 
There is a real discussion to be had about the kind of health service Wales can afford in the future. The Professor’s report contributes to the debate.
In the Commons Opposition politicians have learnt over the years that there is little joy in attacking civil servants by name. A lesson not yet, learnt in the Assembly. To get a real scalp is more a war of attrition than the kind of emotional spasm witnessed in today’s Assembly.


  1. I saw the Senedd today and there were suggestions that Mr Millars remarks were defamatory or libellous (one of the two can't remember which!).

    I was just wondering what remarks are these?.

    BTW can you use British English- rationalising, not rationalizing - I can't stand the AmericaniZation of the English language!! :-D

  2. Point taken about "rationalising" there's an automatic American spell check on computer for some reason I can't switch off and sometimes my own proof reading is not the best. As to the remarks the first Minister was referring to I'm not sure what they were but it would have to be published to be libellous, but slander can't be seaid in Chamber as it is covered by privilege.

  3. Yes I understand Parliamentary privilege.

    He was referring to Radio Wales, and he also referred to something published on the BBC website. I head Radio Wales and couldn't see what was so bad. I don't know if you are able to tell us what you think it is, or would that be defamatory in itself!!. I just found it a very strong thing to say not once but a number of times.

  4. Thank God so many of us living in Wales can still call upon the health service of England!

    I really do feel for the 'Welsh' in Wales that do not have the same opportunity. It must be awful, truly awful!

  5. KP,
    What an irrelevant remark - this blog is about a report.

    And the reality is, even after 13yrs of devolution - the health service in England and Wales are still fairly similar. Yes, there may be small differences like prescription, internal market, drugs fund etc but the vast majority is the same..... Until now, now there will be a difference because of the change in England- it will be interesting to find which service people preferred.

    (genuine question! as I see the NHS reforms as either being fantastic or an absolute disaster- no middle ground like there has been in the past. Whatever happens I do worry how the changes will effect the funding of the Welsh health service via Barnett. It will also be interesting if Welsh NHS boards will "bid" for services (alongside the private sector) in England for English patients- that'd be quite strange and nobody seems to talk about it!).

  6. "Yes, there have been naive exchanges between the Professor and a senior civil servant."

    There was more than one civil servant, Gareth, and the exchanges were hardly naive. If they were - should we trust the naive people who made them to shape the future of our Health Service?