The Times reports(£) this morning on the high death rates in Welsh hospitals. The Labour MP, Ann Clwyd, contacted the medical director of NHS England, Sir Bruce Keogh, who said in an e-mail to his Welsh counterpart that long waiting times for crucial tests in Wales were “worrying” and “warrant investigating”. But another report, in this morning’s Daily Mail says the email was ignored.
At a public meeting in Bridgend, according to The Times “dozens of people said they had seen relatives at the Princess of Wales Hospital left in their own filth, dehydrated or sedated, and medicines left out of reach”. But there are several NHS hospitals in Wales with suspiciously high death rates.
According to the Daily Mail:
Sir Bruce pointed to figures showing that around 50 per cent of Welsh patients wait at least six weeks for bowel cancer scans compared to around 1 to 2 per cent in England.
Similarly for MRI scans – which are used to detect everything from cancer, dementia and muscular injuries – 48.6 per cent of patients wait six weeks or more compared to less than 1 per cent of English patients.
And 80 per cent of patients were waiting 6 weeks or longer for urine tests which can be used to detect bladder cancer.
Sir Bruce wrote: ‘There are six hospitals with a persistently high mortality which warrant investigating. I do not have adequate data to form a view.
‘Waiting times in A&E are considerably worse than England, but the real concern is around prolonged (longer than 6 weeks) waiting times for diagnostics (scans which include cancer tests) including which, of course, translates to delayed treatment.’
The Labour-run Welsh Government has cut NHS spending. However, this is not just about money but also transparency and accountability. It is a matter of dealing with problems rather than pretending they don’t exist. In the Daily Telegraph earlier this month the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt wrote:
The NHS is crossing the Rubicon, with compassionate care starting to replace tick-box targets as the major focus on boards and wards. Credit for this must go to the whistle-blowers who battled bullying and harassment to get a public inquiry into Mid Staffs. I was delighted to see new year honours for former Mid Staffs nurse Helene Donnelly and Cure the NHS founder Julie Bailey. We have now put in place new structures to encourage trusts and individuals to be equally candid: the number of whistle-blowers contacting the CQC is on the up, with 7,626 contacts recorded for this financial year to date.
However, there is still one ongoing tragedy: the refusal of the Welsh NHS to adopt any of these measures. Perhaps because Mid Staffs happened under a Labour government, the Labour Party in Wales has refused to investigate hospitals with high death rates, refused to introduce Ofsted-style inspections, and rejected the transparency agenda embraced in England.
The Times report says “Medical safety campaigners fear the issue will become embroiled in a political row as the Conservatives try to contrast problems in Wales with the English NHS.” But those angry about what is happening in Wales should want as big a political row as possible.
Ed Miliband should be on the phone to his Labour colleague, the Welsh First Minister, Carwyn Jones, demanding a different approach. They should both feel under pressure over the scandal. If Mr Miliband wishes to neutralise the issue that let him condemn Mr Jones for failing to follow Mr Hunt’s example. The problem is that Mr Miliband is too weak to do so.
The Conservatives should have no hesitation about highlighting these failings in next year’s General Election campaign. Mr Miliband should be challenged repeatedly over whether he is proud of the Welsh Government’s record or not.
It is not just health. Eric Pickles has highlighted the housing record. Wales is also missing the improvement in education that Michael Gove is delivering in England. But the NHS is where the contrast is most shocking.
This year politicians are talking a lot about Scotland. But in the 2015 UK General Election campaign, Wales will figure prominently.