What you think of reshaping the NHS

  • 27 February 2013
  • From the section Wales
  • comments

The NHS was thought up by a Welshman, brought to life by a Welshman and at some point between then and now it's become sacrosanct. Knock it - or be seen to knock it - at your peril.

A few weeks ago we covered the row that flared up when the Welsh government decided it wouldn't, after all, be offering all over 50s a health check with a doctor. Labour accused by the other parties of a blatant U-turn. It was quite clear that what they'd said they'd do and what they were now doing was not one and the same. We said so and that was the story.

What, asked one viewer, did we have against the NHS and its wonderful staff? Why were we attacking the NHS on BBC Wales? I wrote back telling him that we weren't. We were reflecting a political row about the NHS, not attacking it. I'm not sure he was having any of it.

No politician will be surprised by any of that. They know that politically, the NHS is well nigh untouchable - and that if you are going to dare suggest it needs a prod and a poke if not a good makeover, you'd better be ready to prepare the ground with a liberal dose of praise for NHS staff first. When Carwyn Jones says the NHS will "collapse" unless it changes, he goes out of his way to make sure he's not seen to be questioning the commitment of those who keep it afloat now.

All of which means the health minister has the sort of job that leaves others shaking their heads, partly because they think she's got it very wrong, but also, partly, because they know, in their heart of hearts, neither she nor they could possibly get it right.

The problem for Lesley Griffiths is that she has got to persuade you that she doesn't have it in for the NHS in its current form, but rather what she does have is a model that we can afford and that will work.

She's got to convince those who make up the NHS in Wales that she knows what she's doing, is leading them in the right direction. And she's got to persuade you that she's changing the NHS in Wales because if she doesn't, it could collapse but that if she does, in the end, it will be better.

Our poll, published a few days ahead of 1 March this year, suggests she's failing - failing to convince you that centralising services in fewer, larger hospitals is the way to go.

Given a straight choice between district hospitals continuing to offer the same range of services as they do now, or patients travelling outside their local patch to find an improved quality of service, a shade under three quarters opt to keep services local. 23% opt for better services further from home.

Back in November the Welsh NHS Confederation asked a similar question - not the same question - but similar enough to look at it with interest today. They found that 58% were opposed to the policy of concentrating services in fewer, larger hospitals. 27% supported it. 14% didn't know.

The confederation asked a number of questions - you can read them all here - and concluded that overall, "while concerns remain over the centralisation of specialist services, people still overwhelmingly prioritise the quality of hospital care over the time it takes to get there".

That is not what our poll suggests. It doesn't suggest the effort to centralise services is wrong. It does suggest the argument that it's right is being lost.

By the way it's also the lowest 'don't know' category in the whole opinion poll. Over 40% don't know whether three of the four leaders in Wales are doing a good job, or a bad job but only 2% don't know where they stand on the reconfiguration of the health service in Wales.

There's plenty in the poll - from confirmation that those who raise taxes are rarely as popular as those who spend the money raised, that Carwyn Jones is nearly as popular as Boris Johnson (more popular than Alex Salmond in Scotland comes one suggestion?) and that more people agree with, than disagree with him that policing and criminal justice should be devolved to the Assembly.

What do you make of the snapshot, one that suggests our appetite for giving the Assembly more powers is there and growing, but that when it comes to using the powers the government already has to shape some of our public services, you seem to find their plans pretty unpalatable.