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Health

The NHS at 75: Urgent national dialogue required to address future healthcare needs

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AS THE NATION celebrates the 75th anniversary of the NHS, the Welsh NHS Confederation has called upon the Welsh and UK Governments to engage in a comprehensive national conversation regarding the innovation and transformation of the health and care system. In a press release, the Welsh NHS Confederation emphasised the need to adapt to meet the requirements of future generations.

On Wednesday, 5th July, the Welsh NHS Confederation will present a report at the Senedd, signalling the commencement of a public debate on the future of healthcare and care services. The organisation acknowledges the public’s enduring trust in the NHS and its fundamental principles of providing free care to all in need. However, it is widely recognised that the existing health and care services are unsustainable. Over the past 75 years, the demographics of the population have undergone significant changes, with substantial improvements in life expectancy for both men and women in England and Wales, an achievement to be celebrated.

Nevertheless, the challenges posed by an ageing population with increased frailty and chronic conditions necessitate a thorough re-evaluation of health and social care. The NHS is confronted with mounting demands while simultaneously contending with immediate pressures that impede long-term planning for health and care services.

This pivotal moment calls for collaborative efforts to co-produce and redesign services, ensuring they effectively adapt to the evolving needs of the population and remain sustainable in the future. Crucially, the NHS must empower individuals to make informed decisions about their own well-being and independence, guaranteeing access to the most appropriate care for their specific requirements.

It is vital to recognise that access to healthcare represents only a fraction of a population’s overall health, with socio-economic factors playing a substantial role. Wales, for instance, faces the highest poverty rate among the four nations of the UK, with more than one-third of children (34 per cent) living in poverty.

The Welsh population grapples with a multitude of health challenges that hinder life expectancy and widen inequalities, many of which lie beyond the direct purview of the NHS. Improving population health and well-being necessitates an integrated approach that encompasses services and sectors beyond healthcare. Redirecting resources towards long-term investment in public engagement and communication, as well as implementing preventative measures across sectors such as housing, education, transport, and access to the arts and leisure, is imperative. All sectors bear responsibility for creating a preventive model, fostering an economic, social, and natural environment in Wales that supports good health and well-being throughout one’s life.

Continuing along the current trajectory is not an option; change is needed urgently. A transparent and candid conversation with the public about the future of health and care services is essential. This discussion must revolve around an NHS that receives adequate and sustainable funding, an NHS that delivers care and prevention directly to individuals and communities, an NHS that empowers and enables, and one that benefits from improvements in public health. The foundation of this dialogue must be an ambitious and sincere partnership between the NHS and the people it serves.

Darren Hughes, Director of the Welsh NHS Confederation, expressed the importance of adapting to opportunities and challenges, a characteristic deeply ingrained in the NHS’s history. He acknowledged the invaluable contributions of NHS staff, social care staff, volunteers, third-sector organisations, unpaid carers, and communities in supporting the nation’s health and well-being. However, Hughes cautioned that the existing efforts alone are insufficient to ensure the long-term sustainability of health and care services for future generations. He emphasised the urgency of engaging in a national conversation to unite behind a shared vision for the NHS’s future. Hughes highlighted that the responsibility lies with the population and all sectors

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Health

Doctors to enter pay negotiations with the Welsh Government

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BMA CYMRU Wales has suspended forthcoming industrial action for Consultants and SAS doctors following a constructive meeting with the Welsh government to resolve its pay disputes.

As a result of sustained pressure, including three rounds of industrial action by junior doctors in Wales, the Welsh Government has made a significant proposal to form the basis of talks to end the pay disputes with all secondary care doctors including Consultants, SAS and Junior doctors.

Since the meeting last week, the committees representing doctors from all three branches of practice have voted to enter pay negotiations based on this proposal.

The planned 48-hour strike by Consultants and SAS doctors due to take place from 16 April will now be suspended.

Junior doctors have paused plans to announce more strike dates whilst they enter negotiations with the Welsh Government.

The Welsh junior doctors committee, Welsh SAS committee and Welsh consultants committee will now each engage in pay negotiations, with the aim of reaching deals which can be taken separately to their respective members.

Dr Oba Babs Osibodu and Dr Peter Fahey co-chairs of the BMA’s Welsh Junior doctors Committee said:

“This is a significant step forward. It is sad that we had to take industrial action to get here, but we are proud of members for demonstrating their resolve in pursuit of a fair deal for the profession.

“Whilst we are optimistic and hope to quickly resolve our dispute, we remain steadfast in achieving pay restoration. Until we reach a deal, nothing is off the table.

 “We will continue to work hard to reach an offer that is credible to put to members who will ultimately have the final say.”

Dr Stephen Kelly, chair of BMA Cymru Wales’ Consultants committee said:

“The Welsh Government’s recent efforts to reach an end to the pay dispute are encouraging and so we have called off our planned strike for now whilst we allow time and space for negotiations to take place.

“We’re hopeful that we can reach a deal that sufficiently addresses years of erosion to our pay to help retain senior doctors in Wales but remain ready to strike if we’re not able to do so during negotiations.”

Dr Ali Nazir, chair of BMA Cymru Wales’ SAS doctor committee said:

“As a committee, we felt that this latest development goes someway to understanding the strength of feeling of our members. We will work hard to reach a settlement that sufficiently meets the expectation of our colleagues who have faced real terms pay cuts of up to a third since 2008/9.”

In August last year, the BMA’s committees representing secondary care doctors in Wales voted to enter into separate trade disputes with the Welsh Government after being offered another below inflation pay uplift of just 5% for the 23/24 financial year. SAS doctors on some contracts were offered as little as 1.5%. This was the lowest pay offer any government in the UK offered and less than the DDRB, the pay review body for doctors and dentists, recommended last year.

As part of their disputes, SAS doctors, consultants and junior doctors carried out successful ballots for industrial action. Since then, junior doctors have taken part in 10 days of industrial action since January this year.

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Health

BMA pay disputes – Junior Doctors, Consultants and Specialist Doctors

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THE WELSH Government and BMA Wales’ three national committees representing consultants, SAS doctors and junior doctors have today agreed to formal negotiations about pay.

Planned industrial action will be suspended during the negotiations.

A mandate is being developed for the talks with all three BMA branches of practice with the aim of resolving the disputes over pay for 2023-24.

In the context of the most challenging financial position the Welsh Government has faced since devolution, a significant amount of work has been undertaken to identify funding to support the negotiations.

First Minister Vaughan Gething said: “We recognise the strength of feeling among BMA members and that industrial action is never taken lightly.

“This is a government that listens and engages to find solutions. I prioritised a meeting with the BMA directly alongside the Cabinet Secretary for Health to reinforce our commitment to that partnership approach.

“We currently face the most severe financial situation in the devolution era which makes our task far harder. Despite this backdrop, we have worked to identify a way forward that I hope will lead to the successful resolution of this dispute and ensure that doctors can return to work in NHS Wales.”

Cabinet Secretary for Health Eluned Morgan added: “Even in these very challenging circumstances, we have worked in social partnership with the BMA and NHS to maintain patent safety during industrial action.

“But the strikes have been very disruptive to the delivery of NHS services – none of us want to see doctors on strike. I am pleased the three BMA committees have agreed to pause further industrial action and begin formal talks with Welsh Government and hope we can bring an end to this dispute.”

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NHS dental charges in Wales to increase from April

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THE COST of NHS dental treatment in Wales will increase from 1 April 2024.

The increase in dental charges is the first since April 2020 and are overall still lower than in England. Any revenue generated from the increased charges will be re-invested back into NHS dentistry services.

From April 2024, the three standard charges will increase to between £20.00 and £260.00 depending on the treatment required, and urgent treatment will increase to £30.00.

Around 50% of people receive NHS dental treatment for free in Wales. Those eligible for free treatment include children under 18 or those aged 18 and in full time education, pregnant women or those who have had a baby within the 12 months of treatment starting, anyone who has dentistry treatment carried out in a hospital or people on certain benefits.

Additionally, the low-income scheme provides full or partial help with health costs, depending on individual circumstances.

Despite pressure on budgets the Welsh Government has increased investment for dentistry, with funding £27 million higher than it was in 2018 to 2019. Included within this increase is an additional £2 million a year to address local access issues.

Changes to the dentistry contract in Wales include a requirement for NHS practices to see new patients. Since this was introduce in April 2022, 312,000 people who couldn’t get an appointment before have now received NHS dental treatment.

Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care, Eluned Morgan, said: “Because of the extreme pressure on our budget we have had to consider if additional funding should be raised by increasing dentistry charges.

“This is the first increase we have made to dentistry charges since 2020. Around half of patients don’t pay for their NHS dental treatment and we will continue to protect those that are least able to afford to pay.

“It is vital we all keep our teeth and gums healthy. This is why we are working to make it easier for people to see an NHS dentist by increasing the number of new NHS places and helping dentists to focus on those who need help by changing how often we see a dentist for routine appointments.”

Commenting on the announcement Russell George MS, Welsh Conservative Shadow Health Minister said: “Vaughan Gething’s arrogant choice to hike up dental charges for the people Wales, rather than cut his Labour Government’s wasteful spending is wrong.

“All standard charges are being increased for dental services by the Labour Welsh Government, including for urgent treatment, which will add to cost-of-living pressures.

“While Welsh Conservatives agree that dental services require greater investment after years of Labour underfunding them, ministers should look at cutting vanity projects like their plans to create more politicians before passing on the cost to patients.”

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