Longer waits but Welsh NHS holds its own says UK report
An independent report on the state of the NHS in Wales and other UK nations has led to fresh clashes between Welsh politicians.
The Nuffield Trust has said Welsh government cuts to NHS funding may be responsible for longer waiting times.
But the study said performance has improved in other areas, with no evidence that Wales is "lagging behind" the rest of the UK.
First Minister Carwyn Jones admitted there were "challenges" ahead.
The research - comparing England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - shows a significant deterioration in Welsh waiting times since 2009.
This was during an "unprecedented squeeze" on finances.
Mr Jones said the report showed "there's very little difference between Wales and elsewhere in the UK" but he acknowledged there were "challenges" including on waiting times.
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We have been at the end of some pretty vitriolic political attacks over the last few weeks over the Welsh NHS and the report shows that those attacks were unfounded.
End Quote Darren Millar AM Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Health
It's no wonder our NHS is falling behind and it's no wonder Welsh patients are getting a raw deal”
"Yes, there are challenges and of course we notice what's happening with regard to diagnostic waiting times and other waiting times in other areas.
"But we also take heart from the fact that cancer waiting times are better than in England, we have more nurses per head than England, life expectancy has improved, we don't have a tablet tax - people don't pay for their prescriptions in Wales, and our cancer survival rate has increased."
But Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Health Darren Millar AM said: "This underlines the damning differences between Labour's underperforming health service and its equivalents elsewhere.
"It's no wonder our NHS is falling behind and it's no wonder Welsh patients are getting a raw deal. While frontline staff get a boost in investment elsewhere in the UK, Wales is burdened by a decrease.
"Labour's record-breaking legacy of NHS cuts has hampered staff and left patients and their families reeling. Ministers talk of a war on Wales when they face criticism.
"The truth is they are waging a war on the truth - honesty - and transparency."
UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt also reacted to the Nuffield Trust research.
"No one is perfect but the report says patients in Wales wait much, much longer for their treatment than patients in England," he said.
"Welsh cancer patients are waiting far, far longer than English cancer patients for their treatments. In fact we're having growing numbers of patients from Wales coming over into England for their treatment."
The bitter row continued on BBC Radio Wales, with Shadow Secretary of State for Wales Owen Smith accusing the Conservatives of "scaremongering".
End Quote Owen Smith MP Shadow Secretary of State for Wale
No one country is steaming ahead, no one country is falling behind”
In a clash with Conservative Alun Cairns MP, Mr Smith, the Labour MP for Pontypridd said: "They said they were going to target Wales and use the NHS to target Labour - that's what they've been doing and they've been found out."
He said the 10-year study showed there was "no real difference" around the UK.
"No one country is steaming ahead, no one country is falling behind, we're better at some things, we're worse at others," he added.
However, Mr Smith did admit waiting times for heart bypass and orthopaedic surgery needed to be "addressed".
Mr Cairns said it was important to recognise good practice.
"In stroke services, the Nuffield Trust particularly comments positively on that... but the underlying factor from what the Nuffield Trust say in their report was that over the last three years here in Wales it's deteriorated compared to the improvements made in England," he said.
Unison Wales "demanded" Mr Cameron and UK Health Minister Jeremy Hunt to apologise to NHS workers.
"Based on the evidence in this important report David Cameron should hang his head in shame for the way he has denigrated the efforts of NHS staff in Wales," a spokesman said.
"For their hard work, often beyond the call of duty, they have faced a prime minister who has simply got carried away in his desperation to attack the Welsh Labour government and the NHS in Wales. David Cameron owes Welsh NHS workers an apology."
End Quote Andy McKeon Nuffield Trust
Since 2010 and in the last three years those waiting times have certainly drifted out”
Andy McKeon, senior policy fellow at the Nuffield Trust, said: "Welsh waiting times were getting better in the decade up to 2010. There were less demanding targets than those in England and Scotland but nevertheless they were met and they were getting close to where England and Scotland were.
"But since 2010 and in the last three years those waiting times have certainly drifted out and lengthened significantly.
"If you look at coronary artery bypass grafts you'll find that patients in Wales wait roughly twice as long as those in England and Scotland."
Mr McKeon added: "I think it's very hard to say why that would be, but one obvious point is that alone amongst the four countries Wales actually cut the money for the health spending in 2010 and for the next three years whereas the other countries either protected it or it grew a little and that's may be an indication and reason for the kind of problems that there are now."