We have been running guest blogs from the four political parties over the last few days in the run-up to the Assembly Elections. We continue with Edwina Hart, Health Spokesperson for Welsh Labour.
By Edwina Hart
Today’s National Health Service is a vast improvement on the situation Labour inherited in 1997.
As a result of record levels of funding under a Labour-led Assembly, we have more doctors and nurses, better facilities and dramatically reduced waiting times. Investment, reform and the hard work of NHS staff have made a huge difference to the speed and quality of care that patients now receive. But in continuing to build a Welsh NHS fit for the 21st century, we recognise that there is more to do – complacency is not an option.
That is why Welsh Labour’s manifesto pledges to stand up for our NHS and deliver a service for patients that is more than just a national illness service. As well as treating the effects of ill health, we need to build the NHS as a national wellbeing service, preventing illness where possible and identifying problems at the earliest possible stage.
That focus on primary care and early intervention is why Welsh Labour’s manifesto pledges to:
- Improve access to GPs surgeries for working people, especially in the evenings and on Saturday mornings.
- Promote Community Pharmacy in Wales as the first port of call for consultation and treatment on minor ailments.
- Instigate a programme of annual health checks for everyone over the age of 50, over the course of the next Assembly term.
- Maintain free prescriptions for all in Wales to ensure access to medicines is based purely on need.
- Ensure that every person diagnosed with cancer has their own care plan, to help improve cancer survival rates.
The other parties may pretend to care about our NHS when the chance of a headline comes around, but only Labour will stand up for our NHS. Labour has worked on delivering savings that protect front-line services, and we’ve avoided cuts to the NHS revenue budget despite Tory cuts.
The NHS budget has doubled under Labour, and the Labour-led Welsh Assembly Government has invested £1.4 billion of capital investment in our NHS over the past four years.
That has meant more hospitals being built, with new units and extra state of the art equipment for existing ones right across Wales. This has helped improve patient care and reduced waiting times, with more than 9 out of 10 people now being treated within 26 weeks after referral.
None of that progress has happened by accident – it’s because of a Labour-led Government invested in our health service.
Yes, our NHS faces challenges in Wales, with an ageing population and advances in medical science. Where there is work to be done, such as with our ambulance service, we have pledged to continue to invest and transform the service to better suit the needs of patients.
The Tory alternative is being played out in Westminster, with cuts, bungled reorganisation proposals and back-door privitisation threatening the very future of our NHS. Perhaps that’s why the Tory ‘pledge’ to ringfence the health budget has met with such derision, from experts, healthcare professionals and the public alike. The 40% cut in Wales’ capital budget from the Tory-led UK Government, coupled with the worst financial settlement since devolution began, are already making things far more difficult for our health service. The last thing our NHS needs is Tory Ministers in the Assembly too.
Patients would suffer from the Tory commitment to scrap the health targets that have contributed to the lowest waiting times Wales has seen. The Tories have made it clear that they would scrap Labour’s free prescriptions policy, which is currently helping to improve health throughout Wales by ensuring that nobody is discouraged from taking the medicines they need because of a lack of money.
In our NHS, just as elsewhere, Welsh Labour is showing that there is an alternative to the cuts and free-market dogma of the Tories and their Liberal Democrat coalition partners in Westminster.
A good quality service, delivered as close to where you live as possible, backed up by the massive investment in our hospitals, diagnostic equipment, and NHS staff – that’s Labour’s promise to you in this election.