Welsh NHS chief hails progress but says more to do

David Sissling says good quality care can be delivered despite belt-tightening

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The head of NHS in Wales has claimed the health service has made "enormous progress" in delivering improvements over the past year.

But he said "too many patients are waiting on trolleys" for emergency care.

In his annual report, NHS Wales chief executive David Sissling said progress included giving stroke patients better access to clot-busting drugs

But the Conservatives said there were major concerns about ministers' plans.

Mr Sissling in his first annual report outlined a number of improvements, which include:

  • A reduction in the cases of infections caught in hospital
  • Improved orthopaedic treatment
  • "The best sustained performance by the ambulance service since records began"

It was happening at a time when health boards have had to tighten their belts.

But Mr Sissling said further improvements need to be made in key areas, in particular there were "too many people waiting in trolleys... and in beds".

Start Quote

A failure to do this (reorganise) will increasingly create risk to the quality and sustainability of important services."”

End Quote David Sissling NHS Wales chief executive

Local health boards (LHBs) had to "live within their means", he said, adding next year would involve "many stretches and risks".

He called on the NHS to become "more ingenious and innovative" in providing services.

Health Minister Lesley Griffiths has insisted no more money will be made available if health boards fail to meet their savings targets next year.

Vociferous campaigns

Mr Sissling said: "All health boards have balanced financial plans and we are working with them to make sure they deliver those.

"They are working to eliminate any inefficiencies, they are working to eliminate any waste.

Analysis: Owain Clarke, BBC Wales health correspondent

The report's aim is to paint a positive picture of the NHS in Wales and an attempt to get on the front foot, according to David Sissling.

His report says that all health boards in Wales are delivering more access to more effective drugs very soon after people get diagnosed.

Another positive, he says, is that incidents of infections that sometimes patients get in hospitals are going down. The report says there were 620 fewer cases of those infections last year and that equates to 37 lives being saved.

This report is designed to show where the NHS is doing well, but there are, of course, and Mr Sissling admits this, places where the NHS has to improve.

Specifically, too many people are waiting in A&E for treatment, sometimes on trolleys in corridors.

Mr Sissling says that's not good enough.

He says shortage of staff next year could cause a real risk to the health service.

"Above all they are recognising that good quality care means better use of the pennies and the pounds."

LHBs are drawing up plans that could see significant changes in the way services are delivered across the country.

In some places this sparked vociferous campaigns by groups who fear their local hospitals will lose services.

In his report Mr Sissling insists change is necessary, saying: "A failure to do this (reorganise) will increasingly create risk to the quality and sustainability of important services."

Changes to services will be based on "good clinical advice" and "engagement with the public", he said.

Ministers have said that hospitals will not be downgraded. They have also resisted the Conservatives' calls to increase health spending in line with inflation.

For the Tories, health spokesman Darren Millar said: "This rose-tinted resume of the Welsh NHS is published against a backdrop of major concerns over Labour's plans to cut the health budget and downgrade hospital services."

Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams said she was pleased to see improvements, but added: "Labour's incompetence in running the NHS over the past decade means that many other parts of our NHS are desperately wanting."

For Plaid Cymru, Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM congratulated the work of NHS staff but said the Welsh government's "self congratulatory spin does not show the full picture and there are many areas where there is still much cause for concern".

Tina Donnelly, director of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in Wales, said the report set a benchmark for future reports and called for year-on-year improvement.

"The Royal College of Nursing in Wales has previously called for patients being treated in corridors and waiting an unacceptable amount of time for treatment to be looked at as a matter of urgency," she said. "This issue needs to be tackled immediately."

  • Meanwhile, First Minister Carwyn Jones has paid tribute to outgoing Chief Medical Officer for Wales, Dr Tony Jewell, who is retiring after six years in the role.

Mr Jones thanked Dr Jewell for his dedication to improving the health of the people of Wales.

"He has worked tirelessly to reduce inequalities that can affect good health, such as child poverty," he said.

Dr Jewell will be succeeded by Dr Ruth Hussey.

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