Drakeford dismisses Welsh hospitals' death rates inquiry call

Mark Drakeford said he had no quarrel with the email sent by Sir Bruce Keogh

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Calls for an inquiry into death rates at Welsh hospitals are politically motivated and a "nonsensical trap", the health minister has claimed.

It comes after the medical director of the NHS in England said the rates were worrying and should be investigated.

Health Minister Mark Drakeford ruled out an inquiry claiming the call was an attempt to "drag the Welsh NHS through the mud".

He said data for England and Wales could not be compared.

The statistics are part of a drive to make the NHS more transparent in the wake of the Stafford Hospital scandal.

Neglect and abuse at Stafford Hospital was said to have contributed to hundreds of unnecessary deaths between 2005 and 2008 and prompted a public inquiry.

Start Quote

It is the concerted political attempt by the Conservative Party in London to drag the Welsh NHS through the mud which is absolutely unacceptable to me”

End Quote Mark Drakeford Health Minister

Speaking to BBC Wales, Mr Drakeford said he was "coldly furious" about the way an email Sir Bruce Keogh had sent his NHS Wales equivalent, Dr Chris Jones, was being used.

In the email, sent in November but now released under the Freedom of Information Act, Sir Bruce said persistently high death rates in Welsh hospitals should be investigated.

Sir Bruce said data on rates in six Welsh hospitals was worrying, but not adequate to form a view.

Sir Bruce and Dr Jones have met since the email was sent but the outcome of that meeting is unknown.

Mr Drakeford said he had "no quarrel" with the email sent by the most senior doctor in England's NHS to his Welsh equivalent.

He went on: "But the use that has been made of that email today makes me coldly furious.

'Utter shambles

"It is the concerted political attempt by the Conservative Party in London to drag the Welsh NHS through the mud which is absolutely unacceptable to me.

Mark Drakeford is usually calm but the strength of the anger in his response was striking.

He is certainly right to say that this is and has become an intensely political argument.

The Freedom of Information request came from a Conservative MP in Bristol, Charlotte Lesley, and I guess among the most toxic claims that she was making was that this was similar to the kind of damaging data in the run up to the Mid Staffordshire scandal, and how the figures were in some kind of way brushed aside by the authorities.

There are all sorts of accusations flying around over the past 24 hours. This is a story that has had a lot of coverage around the UK.

Certainly the claim that there was some kind of cover up does not stack up. The data on mortality rates has been out there and we covered it about a year ago.

The one figure who was notable by his absence yesterday - and we repeatedly asked for interviews - is Sir Bruce Keogh.

I think it will be really interesting to find out how he feels about this situation in Wales now having spoken with Chris Jones. Does he still feel the same? Does he still have concerns? Have any of those concerns been allayed now that he has had more of a discussion with the Welsh NHS?

"All they are interested in doing is trying to divert attention from the utter shambles that is the English NHS by trying to pretend that things in Wales are worse.

"They are not and we will not fall into that kind of nonsensical trap."

Mr Drakeford insisted the quarterly trend showed that things were getting better in Wales' NHS.

Sir Bruce's e-mail came amid heightened tensions between the governments in London and Cardiff Bay over the performance of the Welsh NHS.

Prime Minister David Cameron has repeatedly criticised the performance of the Welsh NHS and the Labour administration in Cardiff Bay during Prime Minister's Questions.

Statistics published last year by the Welsh government showed 11 out of 17 district general hospitals in Wales had higher death rates than should be expected.

Officials described the findings as a "fire alarm" but they warned that there were major problems with the way the data was collected.

More updated statistics now show the figure is down to eight.

On Thursday, Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies, said: "The concerns raised in this email confirm our serious worries over standards of care in the NHS.

"Professor Keogh's recommendation of 'investigation' into mortality rates should be immediately undertaken and no longer ignored."

The Welsh NHS has faced problems recently with key targets for A&E missed since 2009, ambulance response time targets hit once since May 2012 and a rise in people waiting more than nine months for their first hospital appointment.

A Welsh government spokesperson said: "The NHS in Wales is open, transparent and has a higher level of scrutiny than any other part of the UK.

"Mortality rates in Wales are published on a quarterly basis and latest figures demonstrate clear improvement.

"The points raised by Sir Bruce were discussed with him at a meeting with Dr Chris Jones on December 10th."

But Tony Beddow, visiting professor at the University of South Wales Institute of Health and Social Care and an adviser to Edwina Hart when she was health minister, issued a warning over the e-mail.

"There is form on this," he told BBC Radio Wales. "A few months ago one of Sir Bruce Keogh's reports was used, and I would say misused, in relation to the English data.

"This is not a new issue.

"There are reasons why in my view the English administration has to try and portray the shambles that I have described to me every time I meet my colleagues in England - which now passes for a failing healthcare system - and try to portray that in the best light possible."

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