Thursday, 14 January 2016

The truth behind the headline

This column was published in the Llanelli Herald on Friday 8th January

A lot has been written about how the NHS in Wales is lagging behind England, even though the official studies don't back up the idea.

In fact the biggest research report on the performance of the health service in different parts of the UK concluded that each part has its own strengths and weaknesses depending on the priorities set locally.

Is some areas the English NHS is out-performing the Welsh Health Service, but in others it is the reverse. One notable example is helping elderly people stay out of hospital. In fact the highly respected King’s Fund health think-tank has said that social care in England is “on the brink of a crisis”.

This is because unlike your GP or local hospital, services to help people stay safe and independent at home are mainly arranged by local councils. In England the Tories have slashed Council budgets which has had a huge impact on their ability to provide social care. The Welsh Labour Government have tried their best to protect Council services from cuts, but in England the Tories have cut spending on services like home carers, meals on wheels, and day care by more than £1 billion in the last five years.

This is having a huge knock-on effect on the NHS, where each year more and more older people are finding themselves trapped in hospital for days or even weeks, despite being well enough to leave, simply because there isn’t support available for them in their community.

But figures out for Wales this week showed the number of patients remaining in hospital when they are well enough to leave is falling.

The total number of people experiencing a delayed transfer of care, also known as “bed blocking” , in October was 468 - a fall of 1.3% compared to the previous month and is the second successive monthly fall.

Unlike the Tory approach in England the Welsh Government has adopted a “twin-track” approach towards investing in health and social care, which has helped to ensure people can leave hospital quickly when they are well enough.

The Welsh Government’s Intermediate Care Fund, which will next year be increased from £20m to £50m, has been the key role in supporting older and vulnerable people by helping them to maintain their independence in their own home.

We have taken a distinct approach of investing in both health and social care because many we know that people rely on both services for their care. The latest figures published by the Treasury shows Wales spends £172 more per person on health and social care combined than in England. This is a direct result of the choices made by Labour Ministers in Wales and stands in contrast to the Tory approach in England.

You are unlikely to see that on the news or in the London tabloids. The truth about the NHS is more complicated than the headlines suggest.


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