Confidence in Welsh NHS on a steady decline

New polls by YouGov and ICM have uncovered that confidence in the Welsh NHS has been on a steady decline over the last 16 months. The YouGov poll for ITV Wales found that of those questioned, 53% said they were confident the NHS in Wales would provide a high standard of care. While this remains more than half, satisfaction rates hover dangerously close to an alarming dissatisfied majority. Figures show a substantial drop from the 72% satisfaction that was gathered in 2013 in a BBC Wales poll and lag behind England’s 70% confidence rating obtained this month. The ITV poll found that 72% of individuals were satisfied when asked about their own specific treatment carried out by the Welsh NHS, which, whilst more promising, remains lower than previous years. Health Minister Mark Drakeford avidly defended the Welsh health service, commenting to ITV Wales: “I’m immensely proud of the NHS that we have.” However a similar BBC poll has found that a mere 50% were satisfied with the running of the NHS in Wales, against 32% who were dissatisfied with middle aged individuals manifesting themselves as the most dissatisfied age demographic. Whilst 21% of people think the NHS performs better in England than in Wales, 47% thought performance in the two countries was generally equal, with almost two thirds of the Welsh public (64%) believing that the NHS is good value for money.

55% of people answered that they believe the Welsh Government was mainly responsible for the problems with the NHS in Wales, resulting in a backlash from labour politicians arguing that David Cameron’s public attack on the Welsh NHS in the media and in Parliament in recent months is overtly responsible for creating an incorrect portrayal of the state of the NHS in the minds of the Welsh public. In response to these polls, Shadow Welsh Secretary Owen Smith, MP for Pontypridd, said: “This is entirely down to David Cameron’s despicable war on Wales.”

Welsh Health Minister Mark Drakeford has accused Conservatives for spreading blatant lies about the healthcare situation in Wales. UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has claimed patients in Wales were getting a ‘second class service’ and ministers at Westminster have called the NHS in Wales “substandard” over the last year. Cameron seems to have taken a hard line against Wales, commenting to the BBC that people in Wales had been ‘dying on waiting lists’ due to cuts made by Labour politicians in Cardiff to the NHS; spending the increased budget given to the Welsh government elsewhere whilst England saw increased spending on the NHS.

Miliband has relentlessly criticised Cameron for his attack on the Welsh NHS, accusing him of distraction techniques to shift focus from the failings of the English NHS, stressing the failings of England when it comes to patient waiting lists and A&E waiting times.

The Welsh NHS Confederation has created a document highlighting the major issues that must be addressed by the new government. The report emphasises Wales as the poorest region in UK – thus whilst these recent poll results suggest that 39% would be willing to pay £10 to guarantee they see a GP at a time of their choosing, perhaps relieving some financial pressure, criticisms have arisen arguing that charging for some services is likely to extradite the poorest demographic in Wales from accessing services.

As demand for the Welsh NHS has increased and finances become alarmingly constrained, speculation over the future for the Welsh National Health service is rocky and unknown. In Wales, health spending currently makes up 42% of total expenditure, however it seems this falls short of allowing the system to flourish and perform to expected standards. A £225 million increase in health spending has been proposed in the Welsh Government’s 2015-16 draft budget; however this is not likely to relieve all the pressures the Welsh NHS faces. It may be speculated therefore, that public opinion in the future is likely to decrease further as the aging population above 65 is set to increase in Wales by 2033 from 16 to 26% causing more strain and increased costs in order to accommodate this. During this May’s election campaign, the NHS will be a hot topic for sure, with Mark Drakeford facing intense pressure from David Cameron over the failings of Labour in Wales, while Ed Miliband will hope Welsh Labour can bring the NHS back from the edge of ruin and reform the dwindling public confidence in a system that we all hold close to our hearts.

These satisfaction results come on the same week that Ambulance response times for December were released, and it shows the worst ever response times on record. Category A calls response times within 8 minutes was 44.6%, well below the target of 65%, which has been reached only once since 2012. Deputy Health minister Vaughan Gething said the times needed to improve urgently. What is even more worrying is that 15% of Cardiff urgent Category A calls were not responded to within half an hour, and that across Wales, police took over 100 patients to hospital instead of ambulances.

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