Russell George MSConservative Shadow Health Minister in the Welsh Parliament
Russell George MS discusses Welsh devolution and criticises the Labour Party’s management of NHS Wales.
Tony Blair’s premiership, followed by devolution to formerly the Welsh Assembly, now the Welsh Parliament or Senedd has meant that Labour have run our Welsh NHS for over a quarter of a century and their record is one of perpetual failure.
We recently celebrated the 75th birthday of the NHS, thanking the hardworking staff and volunteers that have supported our health service, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic.
I want to see our Welsh NHS not only survive but strengthened for a further 75 years and it must remain always free at point of need. The Welsh Conservatives recently tabled a debate in the Welsh Parliament to that end.
Fixing the longstanding issues in our Welsh NHS following its mismanagement by successive Labour-run administrations in Wales for 25 years, will be a monumental task.
Both the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing have issued stark warnings about the state of our health service. Labour, who have been in control of our health service for over 25 years, have led the only government to have ever cut an NHS budget, not once, but twice – in 2012 and this year.
We have seen headlines in recent months stating that GP services “will collapse in Wales and the NHS will follow”, a warning that Wales faces “a tidal wave of blindness” due to eyecare delays and ambulance waits are “the worst” and “second worst on record.”
With a workforce crisis, funding crisis and waiting list crisis, the greatest issue facing our Labour-run Welsh NHS is serial mismanagement by left-wing politicians in Cardiff Bay.
Fully funding our health service is key. Labour have cut our Welsh NHS’ budget not once, but twice – in 2012 and 2023 – the only government in the UK to have ever done so.
Wales receives £1.20 for every £1 spent on health in England, yet the independent auditor general for Wales confirms the Welsh Government only spend £1.05. The Welsh Conservatives are committed to spending the full Barnett consequential, around another £1.5 billion, on health and social care in Wales, for too long our hospitals have faced unacceptable levels of underfunding.
Given that we are 3 years out from the next Welsh Parliament election, specific financial decisions will have to reflect the wider situation facing the incoming government in 2026. But on funding, the Welsh Conservatives are clear and committed. We know that Labour have their priorities wrong, we would get them right.
Best practices should be observed – the UK Conservative Government have slashed 2-year waiting lists in England to virtually nothing. According to our Labour Health Minister, these waits will not be eliminated until the end of March next year.
Despite England having 18x our population, just 482 people in England-run Wales are waiting more than two years for treatment, in Wales a staggering 30,769 are waiting. This is people’s lives on the line.
It’s important to pose the question, how was this achieved over the border? Surgical hubs were rolled out at speed in England. In Labour-run Wales there was resistance and delay. Welsh Conservatives have been calling for surgical hubs to be rolled out more quickly along with diagnostic centres to cut these excessive waiting lists, but for too long these calls have fallen on deaf ears. Let’s not forget that when we were calling for action earlier we were called foolish for putting people first.
Now that the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak has unveiled his workforce plan to boost staffing numbers in NHS England, Labour Ministers in the Senedd should not fall behind again. We provided the Welsh Government with a programme to recruit, retain and train staff, offering a tuition fee refund for healthcare workers that stay in Wales after their studies at its heart.
Welsh Conservatives have also put forward positive solutions surrounding ill-health prevention, including my colleague, Peter Fox’s Food Bill which involved provisions to teach young people about healthy nutrition and address societal issues associated with food like obesity and diabetes. Additionally, Welsh Conservative Senedd Member, Sam Rowlands’ Outdoor Education Bill will bring the health benefits of the outdoors and exercise to young people. We have also previously proposed gym membership provision for 16-24 year olds to help tackle the obesity crisis.
It is also important to recognise that different health boards have specialist issues that need addressing, with Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board in particularly dire straits.
We have led the charge on the radical overhaul of how the board is run and were against the appalling treatment of the independent members, scapegoated for the gross mismanagement by Labour Ministers in the Senedd that played hokey cokey with the special measures status of the North Wales board.
There is no silver bullet to fix our Welsh NHS, it has a strong foundation with one of the most dedicated workforces in the world, but has had to endure successive Labour Ministers treating our health service with contempt.
The will is there, the money is available even if it isn’t spent correctly, but the leadership is lacking to make our Welsh NHS fit for the future.
As Welsh Conservatives, we would like to see our Welsh NHS survive for another 75 years with the guiding principle of healthcare being free at the point of need still at its heart, but Labour need to address these fundamental issues in Wales or the BMA’s warning of NHS collapse will come true.
While we should absolutely take a moment to thank the hard work of our healthcare workers and volunteers for their tireless work, we can’t ignore the issues within our Welsh NHS and must work harder than ever as legislators to support our health service to fully fund it, follow best practices in the rest of the UK and beyond and to fire up our recruitment and retention efforts.