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Health

Calls to declare health emergency in Wales narrowly rejected

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THE WELSH PARLIAMENT narrowly rejected calls to declare a health emergency due to the “existential threat” facing the NHS.

With the vote deadlocked at 26-26, Elin Jones – the Senedd’s speaker or Llywydd – used her casting vote against the Plaid Cymru motion in line with convention.

Mabon ap Gwynfor, the shadow health minister, urged the Welsh Government to recognise an unfolding emergency and bring the NHS “back from the brink”.

The Plaid Cymru MS warned that without a drastic course correction, the health service faces a highly uncertain future.

He said: “We have brought forward this debate today with one clear purpose: to try to convince the government we need to recognise the existential threat facing the NHS, which is so valuable to us, by declaring a health emergency in Wales.”

Mr Gwynfor, who represents Dwyfor Meirionnydd, pointed out that waiting lists have hit record highs in July, August, September and October.

Plaid Cymru MS Mabon ap Gwynfor
Plaid Cymru MS Mabon ap Gwynfor

‘Limbo’

He told the chamber that there are 582,000 people waiting for treatment – almost a fifth of Wales’ population, who are “stuck in this ever-expanding limbo zone”.

Turning to cancer services, Mr Gwynfor said only around 54% of patients started treatment within the recommended 62 days against a target of 75% which has never been met.

He added that ambulances spent a combined total of 22,000 hours parked outside hospitals waiting to drop off patients in December alone.

Mr Gwynfor quoted Wes Streeting, Labour’s shadow health minister at Westminster, as saying: “You would have to be living on Mars not to see the NHS is in an emergency.”

He urged Welsh Labour to “come back to earth and open their eyes to what is happening here on their watch”.

Pointing out that the Senedd was the first parliament in the world to declare a climate emergency, he urged Welsh ministers to do the same with health.

‘Collapse’

Russell George, the Conservatives’ shadow minister, raised concerns about a GP crisis, saying the number of patients per GP has risen by a third in less than a decade.

Conservative MS Russell George
Conservative MS Russell George

Mr George accused the Welsh Government of failing to sufficiently recruit, train and retain NHS staff more broadly than GPs.

He moved the Conservatives’ amendments, which urged the Welsh Government to develop a workforce plan and set a target to eliminate two-year waits by September.

The Montgomeryshire MS said: “The staffing crisis is so acute that we do need to act now to prevent the collapse of our NHS.

“Those aren’t my words, those are the words straight from the British Medical Association.”

Mr George told MSs that 25,000 people are waiting more than two years for treatment in Wales but in England and Scotland such waits have been virtually eliminated.

‘Miracles’

Huw Irranca-Davies recognised the challenges but said it must be balanced against the miracles being performed daily by the health service.

Labour MS Huw Irranca-Davies
Labour MS Huw Irranca-Davies

The Labour backbencher praised the “amazing” treatment he has received from the NHS, saying he has not experienced long delays.

The Ogmore MS, whose wife works in A&E, said: “It isn’t because, as somebody will say ‘well, you’re an MS, your name goes up the list’ – it isn’t that.

“The NHS treats me like any other citizen. It’s seen me, it’s seen me promptly and it’s getting me through the system as fast as it possibly can, and I’m having the best of service.”

Jane Dodds, the Lib Dems’ leader in Wales, focused her contribution on rural communities, calling for a rural GP premium to help with recruitment and retention.

Jane Dodds MS, leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats
Jane Dodds MS, leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats

The Mid and West Wales MS warned that GPs are continuing to say they have had enough.

She raised a Royal College of GPs survey which found that one in four did not expect to be in their current role in five years’ time.

‘Crisis’

Eluned Morgan, Wales’ health minister, said: “I don’t accept there is a health emergency and I’m not really sure what we hope to achieve by declaring a health emergency.”

Health minister Eluned Morgan
Health minister Eluned Morgan

During the debate on February 7, she told the chamber that the Welsh Government has prioritised the NHS in the face of more than £1bn of real-terms cuts.

She said achieving performance targets has been difficult because demand has gone through the roof, with referrals increasing by 10% last year to 1.5 million.

Baroness Morgan pointed out that almost 300,000 people – about the population of Cardiff – are seen as out-patients every month by the Welsh NHS.

She said more than 2,500 people attend A&E and about 1,100 people call 999 every day.

The minister stressed: “I think the vast majority of these people would say that there is not a crisis. People fall over themselves to tell me how great their treatment has been….

“You’ve got to balance it. We’ve got to balance all of the criticism with the great work that is being done in the NHS.”

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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Health

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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