Mellow fruitfulness and chilll winds

  • 5 December 2012
  • From the section Wales
  • comments

Just when you thought Autumn had been and gone, it turns out it's still very much here - in name at least.

There was some mellow fruitfulness for the Welsh government - or should that be an early Christmas present. The Chancellor handed ministers an extra £227m to spend on capital projects, as well as an additional £52m for day-to-day spending. David Cornock has more details here but I doubt somehow whether Mr Osborne will get, or be be expecting a thank you letter. Any minute now ministers in Cardiff will point out he's the sort of uncle who gives a bit extra with the one hand - and a big smile - having taken a whole wodge out of your pocket some time earlier.

So let's concentrate on another announcement, one that can be made at any time of year in Wales but somehow never fails to appear - an announcement of more money for Local Health Boards.

It's essentially more money to help the NHS in Wales balance the books, to allow it to deal with what the health minister described today as "unprecedented" pressures on the NHS - emergency care has had a particularly tough year. The extra money has come from her own department's contingency fund. I doubt whether Lesley Griffiths herself would regard that as an ideal way of doing business - the opposition parties certainly don't.

But what it is not, she insists, is a bail-out. "Oh yes it is, Minister", shout the opposition parties as one. It may sound like panto but why does it matter so much? Because they can also shout 'look behind you' - back to November last year, in fact - when the same Health Minister said clearly there would be no bail-outs for the LHBs. Not this time, in fact not ever. She had given them all she had. They now simply had to hit their agreed targets with the cash they had.

In fact type "Lesley Griffiths" and "no bail outs" into a search engine and the first three stories to pop up are number one - today's story of the extra £82m, then last November's no bail out pledge, followed by May's story of how the LHBs hit their targets but only thanks to a cash injection of more than £12m from the Welsh government. You'll find the same insistence in all three - "no bail out". You'll also see the huge pressure on the minister and on those who deliver healthcare in Wales.

Tomorrow the Welsh NHS Confederation will be holding their annual conference in Cardiff. I'm looking forward to listening to just about all of it but two things will be of particular interest. Firstly a session that will be asking "Does the NHS in Wales get the press it deserves?" Those present will have a strong view on that, I suspect. So, I hope, will you.

The other is the result of the Confederation's annual opinion poll, and in particular the response to this question:

It has been proposed that the NHS in Wales should concentrate services in fewer, larger hospitals, rather than provide services in larger numbers of smaller hospitals.

Supporters say that the NHS cannot afford to continue to pay for large numbers of local hospitals and bigger hospitals will provide more specialised and better quality care. Opponents say that this will disadvantage people who will have to travel further to get the care they need.

To what extent do you support or oppose this policy for the NHS in Wales, to concentrate services in fewer, larger hospitals?

The responses last year were these:

27% support

58% oppose

The minister will certainly hope that the figures are shifting. After a year of selling a message that says change is a must, the status quo is simply not an option if you want care for your family that is safe and of the standard you deserve, she'll want to know the message is hitting home.