Wales politics

AMs clash over health protection

NHS hospital
Image caption AMs are divided over whether to protect the health budget from cuts.

Assembly members are divided over whether health funding should be protected from cuts in the Assembly government's budget.

Earlier, Welsh Conservatives argued for such protection at a Senedd debate.

But Health Minister Edwina Hart indicated that would damage other departments, such as transport, education and local government.

Mrs Hart attacked the Conservatives for not saying what they would cut to protect health.

The assembly government is due to lay its draft budget for 2011-12 next Wednesday, 17 November.

The UK Treasury says Wales' overall budget will fall by £400m next year in cash terms - that is, without taking inflation into account.

Welsh ministers argue that in real terms the cut will be nearer to £900m.

The health budget makes up around 40% of the total spending within the Welsh block grant.

Protecting it would mean all the cuts would have to fall on other areas of the budget.

Conservative health spokesman Andrew RT Davies said £435 million had been "taken out" of the Welsh NHS budget this year and claimed £1.9bn would be cut from it over the next five years.

Arguing to protect health funding, he said: "The key question here is 'Can we afford not to do this?'

"And I suggest to you that we cannot because of the health indicators that we have here in Wales, regrettably showing us at the bottom of any league table you wish to look at.

"Over 7,000 new diabetes patients this year...if we dry up the funding for the health service in Wales we actually will be creating a bigger time bomb for us to deal with."

The Conservatives say they would give the entire Welsh health budget - revenue and capital - increases in line with the Retail Price Index, at around three per cent a year.

'Hypocrisy'

But Health Minister Edwina Hart accused them of hypocrisy for not saying where they would cut elsewhere in order to protect the health budget.

Mrs Hart said: "Its not a word that I use ever use lightly. But I was thinking of the meaning of the words 'hypocrisy' and 'hypocrite'.

"They both come from the Greek. And a hypocrite is actually something that means, 'play acting'.

Image caption Health Minister Edwina Hart accused the Conservatives of hypocrisy.

"I think I'm quite fair to use that term today."

Mrs Hart said the UK government's spending review had seen the assembly's capital, or building and infrastructure, budget cut by 41% over four years, compared to a UK average of 29%.

She said that made it "highly unlikely" that projects like the £172 million Ysbyty Ystrad Fawr hospital in Caerphilly would be possible in future given such budgetary pressures.

But she said the assembly government would protect investment in healthcare as well as other key public services.

Plaid Cymru's Rhodri Glyn Thomas asked the Conservatives: "Where exactly then are you going to carry out the cuts?"

He claimed that if health were to be protected from cuts, the rest of the budget would have to be cut by 20%.

'The wrong thing to do'

Liberal Democrat Health spokesperson Veronica German said her party saw ring-fencing health as "the wrong thing to do."

She said: "The impact on other spending departments will be more significant... we can't afford to cut those other areas of spending (so much)."

In advance of two debates on health funding in the Senedd, the Liberal Democrats published a report, 'In Need of Care', criticising "the failures of the Labour-Plaid Government's stewardship of the NHS".

The report argues evidence to the finance committee suggests up to £1bn of the NHS budget isn't being utilised appropriately.

It also cites work by consulants McKinsey and Co which found assembly government strategies on health were unaffordable and lacked accountability and the capacity to be delivered.

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