New faces, same Welsh Labour NHS cuts
Cuts continue, but reshuffle shows Welsh Labour government on back foot
Welsh Labour has been playing musical chairs with the ministers' positions in the Welsh Government. The most significant change is the replacement of Lesley Griffiths with Mark Drakeford as Minister of Health.
The press in Wales has been speculating that this is an attempt to head off demonstrations over NHS cuts at the Welsh Labour Party Conference this weekend.
The conference is being held in Llandudno, in North Wales. One of the headline casualties of the Welsh Government's has been the closure of specialist neo-natal care units all across North Wales, meaning that the nearest provider of this essential service will not be in Wales at all but on the Wirral. This has provoked a rash of demonstrations in Wrexham, Llandudno, Flint, Blaenau Ffestiniog amongst others.
Perhaps fear that Welsh Labour's conference could be a target for further protests has led to the re-shuffle and to the First Minister, Carwyn Jones, deciding to look again at the issue of neo-natal care.
Griffiths, the out-going health minister, only just survived a vote of no-confidence over alleged collusion between the Welsh Government and Marcus Longley, the supposedly independent consultant whose report is being used to justify cuts. Her replacement, Drakeford, is a spokesman for the Welsh Labour Left.
But it's a token gesture. Although some on the left have welcomed his appointment, at his swearing in yesterday, Drakeford was quite clear that he will continue with Griffiths' cuts and "see the process through and bring it to a conclusion". He warned that Health Boards (the Welsh NHS is organised into seven health boards) will have to stay within their budgets. He said "..health organisations have to work within their budget and have to deliver their services with the money that they have been given." The money 'that they have been given' is nearly £300million less this year than last year a whopping 5% cut in their total budget! And this comes on top of £1billion cut from the NHS budget in Wales since 2005.
It's possible that Labour might publicly announce a reversal of the North Wales neo-natal policy at their Welsh Conference but in the context of the same cuts to budgets then it will just mean harsher cuts elsewhere. Welsh Labour may also be considering a retreat on its South Wales Programme of the re-organisation of hospitals.
If so then that is solely down to the pressure of campaigners across Wales who have mobilised to resist these attacks on the NHS. What it will do is send a clear message that they can be forced to retreat by communities fighting back. Health campaigners across North Wales would take heart as would those in South Wales fighting the plan to reduce the number of A&E units to four or five (serving two million people). What we need to do now is link up all our campaigns to fight all of Welsh Labour's NHS cuts.
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