Wales politics

Lib Dem leader claims NHS Wales 'like Russian roulette'

The leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats has compared the health service in Wales to "Russian roulette".

Kirsty Williams said risk assessments by health boards showed in some cases a lack of heart attack and stroke services was putting patients' lives at risk.

First Minister Carwyn Jones said it was "ridiculous" to suggest people's lives were left to chance by the NHS.

Most people were happy with the health services they received, he said.

The Welsh government accused Ms Williams of being "irresponsible".

At question time in the Senedd, she said the risk assessments showed local health boards (LHBs) were "admitting the scale of the problem and challenges that they are facing".

She asked Mr Jones if he was "prepared to face up to those same challenges" and that far from the NHS subjecting people to a post-code lottery "in Wales it is more like Russian roulette".

Ms Williams read a series of risk assessments at hospitals which she said provided a "snapshot of the state of the NHS".

Risk assessments obtained by the Lib Dems, and seen by BBC Wales, show it is almost certain that none of the four general hospitals at Hywel Dda LHB could provide "recommended services" for patients presenting with heart attacks.

The health board is responsible for Bronglais hospital in Aberystwyth, Glangwili in Carmarthen, Withybush in Haverfordwest and Prince Phillip in Llanelli.

The assessments, set out in National Patient Safety Agency guidelines, are used to grade risks by likelihood of incidents occurring and the severity of effect on the patient.

The health board's assessements include:

  • Patients having suffered a "heart attack presenting to any of our four hospitals will not receive recommended treatment acutely" because of a "lack of availability" for the equipment needed.
  • With stroke services, the health board suggests that "patients presenting with acute strokes out of hours in any of our four hospitals will not receive recommended treatment" because the equipment needed is "available 9-5".
  • There are similar concerns in maternity services, as well as failures to fill important consultant posts all of which carry the highest risk rating.

All potential incidents are also given an action plan on how to mitigate the risks involved.

'Vigilant'

Mr Jones replied that Ms Williams' statement was not helpful to the NHS - a service that Wales was "proud of".

There were improvements to be made in some areas, the first minister said, which is why Health Minister Lesley Griffiths was "ever vigilant in ensuring that she moves forward in continually improving the NHS in Wales".

"But I don't accept this story that somehow if you live in Wales it's a matter of chance whether you die or not. I think that's ridiculous," he added.

Hyweld Dda medical director Dr Simon Mahon said the risks highlighted had already been "mitigated or indeed removed".

Round-the-clock stroke treatment was now available in all main hospitals and the board had an agreement with the neighbouring health board and the ambulance service on heart treatment, he said.

Dr Mahon added: "We would like to reassure patients that risk registers are an essential mechanism by which we can identify and address potential patient safety issues.

'Irresponsible comments'

"By its very nature, risks are inherent within the health service, and it is the role of health boards to manage those risks safely to ensure the best outcomes for patients."

Welsh NHS Confederation director Helen Birtwhistle said: "In some areas, services are provided across too many sites with the result that these limited resources - especially staff and equipment - are spread too thinly.

"The NHS is exploring opportunities to bring services together so that some of the risks that have been identified can be reduced and the quality of care for patients improved."

A spokesman for Ms Griffiths said: "These irresponsible comments by the Welsh Lib Dem leader will cause unnecessary concern to patients.

"The NHS in Wales takes patient safety very seriously and to imply otherwise, is an insult to its dedicated staff.

"Every day thousands of patients receive high quality, safe and effective care by our NHS.

"Maintaining risk registers is a matter of good governance - to critically identify what things could go wrong and what actions are needed to avoid things happening.

"Conveniently, the Lib Dems have failed to mention this and instead are more interested in trying to grab a cheap soundbite, at the expense of patients' fears."

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