Minister Lesley Griffiths rejects privatisation of NHS

The health minister has hit back at claims the Welsh Government is allowing more private treatment within the NHS.

Lesley Griffiths told BBC Wales she "completely rejected the privatisation of NHS services".

She said she "did not want to see private companies making money out of our NHS."

Ms Griffiths said the private sector should only be considered in the short term as a "last option".

Opposition parties have accused the government of sending out mixed messages about its policy on using the private sector in the NHS.

Conservative shadow health minister Darren Millar has called on Ms Griffiths to clarify her position. Writing on Twitter, he compared the minister to Little Britain character Vicky Pollard, famous for her "yeah, but no" catchphrase.

Last week the Welsh Government said local health boards (LHBs) should "explore all possible avenues" to bring down waiting times. It came after a plan to treat orthopaedic patients in south Wales within the target time of 36 weeks listed the use of the independent sector among a series of options being considered.

In its manifesto for May's assembly election, Labour said it had delivered on a pledge to "eliminate the use of private sector hospitals in NHS Wales".

Ms Griffiths said she understood LHBs had to make tough choices, but added she "would prefer not to see any independent sector used" and that "using private, independent sector must be a very short term and must be a last option".

With tightening budgets many within the NHS in Wales say there is not enough capacity to meet the demands placed on them.

Tina Donnelly, director of the Royal College of Nursing in Wales, told BBC Radio Wales: "There is increased funding going into the independent sector to cut back on waiting lists.

"I would question the decision making to see whether we are using the NHS theatre time to its fullest extent and whether or not we have the capacity to deal with the repatriation of patients.

"I cannot see how the NHS in Wales can continue to deliver with the financial funding that it has got."

But the health minister insisted "we give LHBs huge budgets, and they have to make sure they capacity build".

The use of private facilities in Wales has decreased over the last few years as a result of government policies.

'Feel the squeeze'

According to the Welsh Government, in 2010/11, 1,065 patients were seen in private hospitals out of around 265,000 operations carried out - less than 0.5% of all activity.

In 2004/05 private hospitals accounted for 1.3% of all activity.

Prof Marcus Longley, director of the Welsh Institute of Health and Social Care at Glamorgan University, said that while tough targets need to be met, it is always likely that health boards would turn to the private sector to meet them.

He said the NHS "has to go to where it can get that provision".

"The big question for the future, I think, is will we start to relax a bit on these waiting times targets in order to allow the health service to have a little bit more elbow room, and as some might say, a chance to respond a little bit more intelligently to the situation it finds itself in."

Prof Longley also said that the use of the private sector had declined over the last few years because more public money had been poured into the NHS, but that was about to change "as services start to feel the squeeze".

'Make it transparent'

Nicola Amery, chair of the Welsh Independent Healthcare Association, said if done correctly, using the private sector need not be prohibitively expensive.

She told BBC Wales there should be a dialogue whereby private hospitals could say to the NHS in Wales "here is the framework for costing".

"Let's make it transparent, as indeed they've done across the border in England for a number of years, where there's an agreed tariff on each procedure that's done," she said.

"Everybody knows exactly where they stand, and you can move forward from there."

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