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Friday, October 03, 2014

Scalpels drawn over the Welsh health service

According to this morning's Western Mail, all-out war has broken out between the Welsh Government and the BMA over the future of Wales' health service.

It all started when the BMA decided that enough was enough and called for an independent inquiry into the way that the NHS in Wales is being run. The chair of the BMA’s Welsh council, Dr Phil Banfield, said the NHS in Wales was facing “imminent meltdown” with GP surgeries on the brink of closure and morale at an all-time low.

The paper goes on to record that BMA Cymru, which represents 7,000 doctors in Wales, also slated the persistent failure of the ambulance service to meet its emergency targets, the “vast” numbers of overdue follow-up appointments in hospitals and the high numbers of patients lying in hospital beds through delayed transfer of care.

Their call for an independent Keogh-style inquiry was backed by both the Liberal Democrats and the Welsh Conservatives. The idea is that there would be a “root cause analysis” of the factors which have led, or have the potential to lead to fundamental breaches of care.

Labour hit back, with Mick Antoniw speaking in plenary on September 24, saying: “I read the two sides of A4 that talk about a whole series of things – very little of it justifies any form of inquiry. You do wonder why the BMA have changed their position. You wonder whose sticky fingers have been working their way around this issue at this particular time.

“The Tories can have no credibility whatsoever on the health service and I have concerns about the timing in which the BMA council have brought this forward. This could be an inquiry on just about anything because once this is out of the way there will be an inquiry about something else. You are playing politics with the Welsh NHS.”

Now, an open letter has arrived in my office and in the offices of other AMs refuting these claims:

Dr Richard Lewis, Welsh Secretary of BMA Cymru Wales, said: “We absolutely refute the suggestion that this is ‘political games playing’.

“Over a number of years BMA Cymru Wales has raised concerns about recruiting and retaining doctors in Wales. Not just junior doctors, regularly cited by health boards as one of the driving forces for reconfiguring services, but of consultants and GPs too.

“We have offered practical ideas and our assistance in finding solutions, the response has been slow and inadequate.

“When we warned that General Practice in Wales was in crisis, with GP practices finding it impossible to recruit new partners, we were told we were wrong.

“Last week, it was widely reported that Blaenau Ffestiniog is likely to lose its GP surgery because the doctors were leaving. That’s not the only area of Wales experiencing difficulties.

“We are worried that many changes to services are being forced through as a reaction to crises that could have been prevented with better planning and foresight.”

BMA Cymru said it has received more than 400 emails from consultant members across Wales expressing concerns about feeling undervalued as professionals.

Dr Lewis said doctors are now working under extreme stress while managing “avalanching” workloads.
He added: “There are shortages of consultants, staff grade and associate specialist (SAS) doctors and trainees in many departments across the country, and the doctors left standing have to cope with the additional workload.

“This is when mistakes may happen and in the light of doctors’ strength of feeling, we felt that we had to reluctantly reconsider our position on the need for an independent review of services.”

The Welsh Government have put significant sums of extra money into the health service through their latest budget. However, it is clear that extra resources will no longer be enough. There needs to be a wider examination of all the issues so we can have a clear consensus on the way forward for the NHS in Wales.
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