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Thursday, February 24, 2005

The return of Dr. Pangloss

The Welsh Liberal Democrats used one of their debating slots yesterday to raise the crisis in accident and emergency units around South Wales. However, it was Conservative AM, David Melding, who got the real measure of the Minister with a devastating contribution:

David Melding: Like many other Members, I was struck by how the First Minister described his visit to the accident and emergency department at the University Hospital of Wales. He said something along the lines of it being the most interesting half-hour of his political life, that he was pleased that his visit confirmed that his Government’s policies were the right ones, and that they were on track to sort out the health service. The First Minister probably found it fascinating because, in his interpretation, it confirmed that he was doing the right thing. There was not much intellectual curiosity or analysis happening; it was as if the famous Dr Pangloss had visited Lisbon in the 1750s after the earthquake and said, ‘I am happy to confirm that we do indeed live in the best of all possible worlds’. However, most people in the outside world regard this as fairly flimsy thinking and not what we need to firm up the health service, to make it excellent and able to manage the flows through secondary care.

Despite some prompting and a bit of a gaff when he said that it was just such a situation as you would expect in January, at least the First Minister went to the accident and emergency department in question. Brian Gibbons also spent a fair part of last week visiting various accident and emergency departments—I am not sure how many, but he was pictured in the local evening paper that I read, and I suspect in others also. I do not knock it, because I am glad that he is doing it. I have been told by some health staff that you can now see a queue of ministerial cars outside each accident and emergency department, and that that queue is only outnumbered by the number of ambulances waiting to disgorge their poor patients. At least when Brian visits, given his professional background, he can lend a hand, whereas I do not know what people must say when they cannot get a hospital bed and then they have Rhodri Morgan gawking at them. That is something for us to think about.

In his reply today, the Minister for Health and Social Services must tell us whether these problems are somehow going to be tackled by current general policies, that the solution is inevitable and will come piecemeal and fairly soon, or whether he has to have a special policy, consider the current situation in accident and emergency units, acknowledge that it is dysfunctional, acknowledge that the current state of patient flows cannot be sustained, and that we need to take corrective action now. Unless you give us the assurance that that is your diagnosis, Minister, you will certainly not have the confidence of this side of the Assembly that you are taking this problem seriously.

There really was no way back after that.
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