Wales' Mid Staffs Crisis

There is a crisis in the Welsh NHS, and its epicentre is at the University of Wales Hospital in the Heath, Cardiff.

Ross Saunders

The cuts have forced 13,000 operations to be cancelled in the last three years in Wales, a whopping 4000 of which were at the Heath Hospital. The Royal College of Surgeons said services at the hospital were "dangerous" and of "poor quality". Patients, they said were "dying regularly" while waiting for heart surgery. 152 patients have died because of delays getting heart surgery at the Heath and Morriston since the recession began. Ann Clwyd MP has called it "the Welsh equivalent" of the Mid Staffs scandal, but Clwyd played a terrible role as the ConDem's "patients' tsar" in blaming health workers for falling standards instead of the government and their cuts agenda.

When the cuts first hit the budgets of hospitals and other public services, the figures, written in £millions, seemed to many to be so abstract and disconnected from people's lives and daily experiences that it wasn't possible to understand them and what they would mean. Socialist Party Wales warned that the £660 million cut from the Welsh NHS in the last three years will have devastating consequences for the lives and health of working class people. Those figures have now been brutally translated into the language of misery for many families who have lost loved ones, a language people understand all too well.

Opposition is growing but it must get organised immediately, because the pace of attacks is quickening. Over half of the operations cancelled at the Heath were scheduled for this year. Despite a promise by the First Minister, Carwyn Jones, to Wales TUC that cuts in the NHS would not be made through redundancies, the Cardiff and Vale Health Board has used the despicable device of issuing 188 notices to cut 384 staff members, as Labour-run Neath and Port Talbot and Rhondda Cynon Taff Councils threatened to do. The heroic efforts of most NHS staff, many of whom work long hours of unpaid overtime every week in incredibly intense working environments, will not be able to prevent the cuts in their numbers from doing further damage to the service.

The revelations have blown apart Welsh Labour's claim that they are protecting Wales from Tory attacks. We don't have privatisation pushed to the same degree in Wales as it is in England, but the funding cuts are on a scale unprecedented in history or anywhere else in the country. The Welsh NHS is starving. According to the Audit Office, by 2014/15 spending per person on health in Wales will be lower than any other part of the UK. The massive holes rent in the service will create more space for private healthcare companies to cater to those who can afford to pay to jump the queue.

Mark Drakeford AM, the Health Minister, has refused to agree to a public enquiry into the crisis at the Heath. The response of Labour in general is to denounce the cuts when they are demanded by Westminster, but pretend that they are improvements when the Welsh Government obediently implements them. For example, they claim the plan to downgrade Accident and Emergency Services in South Wales is driven by clinical priorities, not by funding cuts. Protests have forced a delay in the implementation of the "South Wales Programme", which would see just four or five fully equipped A&E and maternity departments for the whole of the 2.1 million who live between Llanelli and the border. In a move reminiscent of Thatcher's manipulation of unemployment statistics in the 80s, Drakeford has declared targets for Ambulance "clinically irrelevant". Despite the Herculean efforts of understaffed and overworked Ambulance workers, the Welsh Ambulance Service has missed its targets every month for over a year. Urgent cancer care targets have also been missed.

Wales needs a government in the Assembly that would demand the funding to get ambulances out the door quicker, to treat cancer patients and those in urgent need of heart surgery, not make excuses to try and dress the cuts up as improvements or wring their hands and weep while they swing the axe for the Tories. Drakeford's first announcement when he filled the position of Health Minister was that Health Boards in Wales must stick to their spending limits. The opposite policy should be pursued: Health Boards should be told to spend what is required in order to maintain services at their current level. Other parts of the public sector, like Councils, which can borrow or use reserves can take up the slack while a Wales-wide campaign against health cuts is built, linking up the vibrant campaigns that already exist and demanding the required funding from Westminster. Wales TUC missed an opportunity to push this agenda through from below when it failed, despite a motion passing at its conference, to organise a Welsh demonstration against NHS cuts. The building of a mass movement in Wales to defend the NHS from the attacks of Tory politicians and their collaborators, linking up with a movement in the rest of the UK, is essential: without it England's NHS will be smashed by privatisation, and Wales' NHS will be starved, but both will die.

Ross is the secretary of Cardiff Against The Cuts, the campaign group set by Cardiff Trades Council in 2010. Contact Ross on 07772215281 or at if you would like to get involved in the campaign or would like a seat on the coach travelling to the NHS demonstration at the Tory conference on the 29th September.

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