NHS Wales: a political battleground?

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Despite having centres of excellence like Velindre Cancer Centre in Cardiff, rated best cancer centre in Wales by Macmillan Cancer Support and one of the best in UK, Welsh NHS is caught in the crossfire of political discourse, with Labours accusing David Cameron of overlooking a mounting health crisis in the UK and the Conservatives answering with claims about bad governance of Welsh NHS.

Mark Drakeford, Wales's Labour minister for health and social services, says Cameron's accusations are lies, aimed at discrediting Welsh NHS for purely political reasons. Despite the ageing population and being the only net importer of older people in the UK, Drakeford says, NHS in Wales is coping well, maintaining very high standards even under high pressure.

Drakeford provides examples of how, in many instances, Welsh NHS provides better services than NHS England, also thanks to the effective collaboration between health and social care. Conservatives' claim that Wales has been the only UK country to really cut its health budget since 2010 is, Drakeford continues, a "distortion of the truth", as the government has introduced a shared budget for health and social care.

Drakeford identifies "areas of challenge" for NHS in Wales that need action, like waiting times for hospital treatments, ambulance response to 999 calls and A&E. However, he praises Welsh NHS for delivering a patient-centred service rather than having a target-oriented approach like some English NHS hospitals.

His claim is backed by Professor Mansel Aylward, chair of Public Health Wales and professor at Cardiff University's medical school. Aylward says that it is inaccurate to claim that NHS is better in England than in Wales, as "there's not that much difference between health outcomes and the quality of care that's delivered".

A recently updated study by the Nuffield Trust, comparing performances of NHS in UK countries, found that all nations have improved their NHS and there is no evidence of one country being consistently better than the others.

However, the study also found that Wales was the only country to cut health budget in real terms and reported "worrying signs of lengthening waiting times for common procedures". At the same time, the report says that cancer patients in Wales receive treatment sooner than in England and Welsh hospitals are not experiencing "bedblocking" as much as in England.

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