The National Health Service in Wales is struggling. Despite the hard work of staff, its recovery is nowhere in sight and serious questions marks hang over standards of care. Indeed, many of the problems within the Welsh NHS are escalating:
• More people than ever are waiting longer than nine months for their first hospital appointment
• Ambulance response times have been met just once in the last 19 months
• Waiting time targets for 'urgent' cancer patients haven't been met since 2008
These are just a few of the serious difficulties that continue to heap pressure on our beleaguered NHS. Barely a week goes by without further reports of alleged failings and more tragic stories from people who deserved far better. Welsh Labour refuses to acknowledge the crisis that has unfolded under its watch. I believe that recognising the seriousness of this situation is the first step on the way to correcting it. The longer Labour ministers dismiss the worries and fears of families, clinicians and observers, the longer these problems will drain resources and hit patients. The only way to regain public confidence - now at an all-time low in Wales - is to put an end to the under-performance and implement measures that guarantee a safe and successful health service in the future.
Part of that solution lies within an independent Keogh-style public inquiry.
Eight out of 18 district general hospitals in Wales have higher death rates than should be expected. That's according to the latest set of mortality data. The Welsh Government's answer is to plan for reform of the way those numbers are collected, following recommendations made in a report it commissioned. Instead of getting to grips with the problems behind them, Labour ministers are simply signalling an intention to scrap the stats that paint them in a bad light. That's not the right way forward and it will do nothing to improve public trust.
A Welsh Keogh-style inquiry is not about name-and-shaming. It's not about point-scoring. It's about rooting out the problems behind those stats, addressing concerns and safeguarding patients. Professor Keogh himself - the author of a public NHS inquiry in England - has raised concerns over mortality rates in Wales and publicly stated that any thorough review of procedure and process can only be a positive move for the future. Senior Labour MP Ann Clwyd has echoed our calls for a public inquiry and highlighted worsening mortality rates. The North Wales patients' watchdog has called for an inquiry. The Royal College of Surgeons has raised grave concerns over cardiac waiting lists in south Wales. It has highlighted 'a severe risk to patients' and 'urgent action... required'. It isn't just Welsh Conservatives calling for immediate action and swift improvement then. We have been joined by patients, clinicians, experts and politicians from across the spectrum and throughout Wales.
In England, where the health budget is protected in line with inflation, spending on the NHS has increased. In Wales, where it isn't, it has gone down. Labour's legacy of record-breaking budget cuts has led to a crisis that no-one in Wales deserves, and instead of working to alleviate it, Welsh Labour's only answers are to reform mortality data and approve the downgrading of emergency units.
It's time for a different approach.
Welsh Conservatives want a Keogh-style inquiry - implemented quickly and completed swiftly. This is the right way forward for our long-suffering and Labour-run NHS. This is the right way forward for Wales.