Cameron should apologise to Wales over the NHS

Cameron has fallen into the trap of measuring NHS success by how much is spent on treating people


Week after week, David Cameron has stood up at Prime Minister’s Questions and accused Ed Miliband of seeking to ‘weaponise’ the NHS as a political issue.

With recent polling conducted jointly by the Health Service Journal and FTI consulting finding that voters are ranking the NHS as a top priority and trusting Labour most to run it, the sense of desperation in Conservative ranks has been palpable.

Politicians playing political football with the health service is nothing new. That the prime minister, however, has the cheek to accuse Labour of weaponising the health service for political gain cannot be tolerated, given the assault that he continues to launch on the health service in Wales.

Welsh Labour, so the Tories argue, is cutting the NHS budget to a point at which the health service is somehow at breaking point.

Such a crude analysis simplifies beyond all belief a matter that rightly deserves serious analysis rather than political pot shots.

The plain and simple reality is that you can ring fence health service spending as much as you like, but if you don’t do the same with social care it becomes almost meaningless.

David Cameron et al have fallen into the trap that too many governments have, namely measuring success in the health service by the amount spent on treating people, rather than efforts to prevent admissions to hospitals and other health services.

That is why Andy Burnham’s calls for a single health and social care system are so important.

For too long, the country has erected a virtual iron wall between health and social care, giving the impression that the two are somehow not linked. It’s time to change that and change it fast.

It is for this reason that David Cameron should now apologise to Wales for his continued weaponising of the health service.

He should publicly acknowledge the recent research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies showing that social care budgets in Wales have been protected more than they have been in England.

Figures also show that, in Wales, in the words of the BBC’s Health Editor, Hugh Pym:

“The proportion of cancer patients whose treatment began within 62 days of being referred by a GP rose to 88 per cent in the final three months of 2014. That compares with 83.8 per cent of patients in England.”

Will David Cameron admit this? I somehow doubt it.

That the health service in Wales, as in all four nations of the UK, is facing considerable challenges is undeniable. It is time however for David Cameron to recognise that his selective use of the facts and political bashing serves only to make him look increasingly desperate when it comes to health service policy.

As the Guardian today concludes in its editorial:

“If the NHS is struggling in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, that is ultimately a cause for shared concern rather than chauvinist or partisan rivalries.

“Mr Cameron, who has got so much wrong about Scotland, should be more wary of where his approach is heading. The deeper concern is that it both reflects and encourages a wider decline of solidarity between England and Wales, especially among Conservatives.”

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

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