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Thursday, November 06, 2003

Wanless or clueless?

The hapless Jane Hutt continues to make her mark on the NHS in Wales. At the Health and Social Services Committee yesterday she unveiled the Welsh Assembly Government's response to the Wanless report into the state of the Health Service in Wales. This report recommends radical and difficult changes to the way that the Health Service is run if we are to even begin to tackle the huge waiting lists that are building up all around the Country. The problem is that Jane cannot bring herself to make any decisions. Instead she unveiled a recycled £25 million and failed to give details on what she proposes to do. There were no targets and no action plan.

At the same time I was meeting with Bro Morgannwg Health Trust to discuss the impact of the Working Time Directive on GP out-of-hours services in the Llynfi Valley. Bro Morgannwg is one of the best managed Trusts in Wales. They have made difficult decisions to avoid the sort of deficits faced year on year by other Trusts such as the old Dyfed-Powys, and they have consistently planned and managed their way through fundamental external changes. Despite this they have seen the deficits of less-well run trusts written off by the Assembly, seemingly without question or criticism, whilst they get no extra resources. They would be perfectly justified in accusing the Assembly Government of rewarding failure in the NHS and penalising success. Even they admit that the challenge posed by the Working Time Directive will be a very stiff one. This is one of the challenges that Wanless says must be met head on and yet all we get from the Health Minister are glib assurances. In the meantime, as England heads for near-zero waiting lists, the Welsh NHS staggers from crisis to crisis. It was not Ieuan Wyn Jones who needed to reshuffle his team's portfolios yesterday, it was the First Minister.

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