Police Cars and Ambulances

Problems in the Welsh NHS are becoming inescapable. Missed targets – the worst for years – illustrate what anyone who works close to the NHS can tell you. The system is in serious trouble. Even BBC Wales picked up on this, with six days of coverage last week.

We cannot for one second blame staff. They are as much victims in this as patients. The problem – much as it was in policing – is weak leadership. And that starts at the top, with politicans.

Large organisations need simple messages. They need leaders empowered to lead. They also need honesty. Only then can staff flourish and patients benefit.

To criticise the NHS in Wales is not to criticise Wales, or NHS staff. It is to acknowledge that people’s health is more important than protecting reputations in Cardiff.

Wales has denied its problems for too long. It suffers from a dangerous consensus among officials and politicians in Cardiff Bay. No one dares tell truth to power. Wales, tragically, is performing worse than England, far worse. Excessive sensitivity about these comparisons allows ministers to avoid scrutiny of their performance.

I’m no fan of Cameron’s crude rhetoric about Offa’s Dyke being the line between life and death but that does not mean he is wrong. All last year Cardiff Bay politicians tried to silence anyone who criticised the performance of the NHS in Wales, including Labour MPs like Ann Clwyd.

Now NHS pressures are spilling over into policing. In December Dyfed Powys had twice as many trips to A&E as in November. Some of these trips start when officers are already at the scene. Sometimes police are asked to attend by 999 call staff. Why? Because ambulances aren’t available.

That means more officers waiting in A&E, officers conducting at-scene medical assessments beyond their expertise, or officers leaving their duties to drive patients to hospital… which in turn means those officers are not able to perform their day jobs.

It is simply not fair on officers. They will take the blame if something goes wrong. It’s not fair on patients. They are being denied the care they should get. And it is not fair on the public who pay for this mess.

I, and others, have raised the issue repeatedly over the last two years. All we get is talk and no action, consultation documents and muddle-headed legislation. Welsh ministers fiddle while Rome burns.

Meanwhile, those same ministers are seeking to expand their powers. They want to control policing, courts and probation services.

We have trodden on eggshells for too long. The question is increasingly how – and whether – the current model of government in Wales can be made to work as it is, not how much more to give it.

Why should we trust Cardiff ministers to control law and order with so many existing failures in health and education unaddressed? We shouldn’t.

The people of Wales deserve better.

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