Wales NHS 'tissue of lies' accusation by minister

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Media captionMr Drakeford accused Jeremy Hunt of selectively quoting from an unpublished report into NHS services

Welsh Health Minister Mark Drakeford has launched a stinging attack on the Conservatives for telling a "tissue of lies" about the state of the Welsh NHS.

UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has claimed patients in Wales were getting a "second-class" service.

Mr Drakeford accused him of intending to selectively quote from a planned review of NHS services in the UK.

But Mr Hunt said the findings of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development should not be withheld.

'Huge pressure'

The war of words between the two health ministers follows claims by the Daily Mail that the NHS in Wales was in "meltdown".

Mr Hunt added his voice to the attack on Welsh Labour in response to health questions in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

He told MPs that for every English patient treated in a Welsh hospital, five Welsh patients were treated in England, creating "huge pressure" for English hospitals.

"I've written to the Welsh health minister to say that the NHS is happy to treat more Welsh patients, but the trouble is they aren't prepared to pay for it and that's why Welsh patients get a second-class health service," he said.

Mr Hunt also claimed Labour was trying to prevent publication of an independent study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) comparing the four different NHS systems in the UK.

Mr Drakeford wrote an angry response, accusing Mr Hunt of attempting to "subvert the process" of publication of an independent report.

He also warned that the Welsh government might commission its own report from the OECD to avoid the risk of "contamination" by an "overt politicisation of the process".

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Media captionBBC Wales health correspondent Owain Clarke expects the row to continue

It follows a letter sent by Mr Hunt to Mr Drakeford on Monday.

'Deliberate and deceptive'

"The assertion in your letter that you feel you have a right to quote selectively from an unpublished report in the lead up to the General Election is truly shocking - it flies in the face of every principle of the proper conduct of public life," Mr Drakeford wrote.

"Your failure to clearly and openly set out such an intention at the time when the study was commissioned will appear to some to be deliberate and deceptive.

Image caption Mr Drakeford claims the media received Mr Hunt's letter before he did

"The NHS in Wales will not be the victim of any Conservative Party ploy to drag its reputation through the mud for entirely partisan political purposes.

"At a time when the four home nations of the UK need to be working closely together address the threat of Ebola, your willingness to put the interests of your party above those of the public is especially reprehensible."

Mr Drakeford said he intended to publish Mr Hunt's letter to him, saying it was "grossly discourteous" that it had already been given to the media and a backbench Conservative MP by the time it arrived at his office.

In response, Mr Hunt denied trying to subvert the OECD report due for release in February 2015.

However, he added: "On a matter as important as this I do not agree with you that their findings should be withheld from the public.

"I believe we owe it to taxpayers who fund the NHS to show we are willing to learn from other parts of the UK as to where our performance can be improved."

In a second letter, to health staff in Wales, Mr Drakeford said he was "very proud" of their work, adding that political and media attacks would "intensify" in the run-up to the general election.

"It saddens me to see our NHS used in this way," he wrote, warning of the "potentially damaging impact" on morale.

Defending Welsh Labour's running of the NHS during First Minister's Questions on Tuesday, Carwyn Jones admitted the health service had its difficulties, but he said he was not prepared to "play politics" with people's health.

Analysis by Vaughan Roderick, Welsh Affairs Editor

The disagreement between Mark Drakeford and Jeremy Hunt is one of the worst clashes between a Welsh and a Whitehall minister since the assembly was established in 1999.

The timing of the clash couldn't be worse, coming as it does as the UK and Welsh governments enter delicate negotiations about increasing the assembly's powers in the wake of the Scottish referendum on independence.

Holding such negotiations in the run up to a UK general election was always going to be difficult.

And, with the Welsh government accusing Jeremy Hunt of deception and discourtesy, trust could be very hard to establish.

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