Apologising for NHS spreads this winter

Nick Servini
Political editor, Wales
@NickServinion Twitter

Media caption,
Vaughan Gething said patients waiting for planned surgery would understand there were 'genuine emergencies'

Apologies by senior politicians about the response to winter pressures in the NHS are flying around like a bout of Australian flu.

Once one starts, it kicks off a chain reaction. So when the UK Government Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said sorry, it made it difficult for Theresa May not to do the same thing.

Once the chief executive of the Welsh NHS Andrew Goodall said sorry on Good Morning Wales then the Welsh Government Health Secretary Vaughan Gething had to do the same, and presumably Carwyn Jones will also follow suit at some point.

It may take the heat out of some of the coverage but it does nothing to help patients sitting in a corridor waiting for treatment or sitting at home while long-anticipated surgery has been postponed.

The irony is there for all to see in terms of the politics. A Labour Welsh Government is coming under fire for winter pressures from a Conservative opposition, while the mirror image is happening on the other side of Offa's Dyke.

Land blows

And what is more, both sides are trying to turn it to their advantage, so the Welsh Government dismisses the criticism from the Welsh Tories by pointing out the situation in England, and UK Government ministers do the same to Jeremy Corbyn's team about what is happening in Wales.

Neutrals will point out they cancel each other out, but that will not stop the respective sides trying to land blows.

Away from the business of political point scoring, there are some differences between Wales and England to the response.

One of the main ways that the NHS prepares for the winter is to reduce the number of planned operations.

What health bosses have been forced to do is cut back even more than envisaged because of added pressure such as the 50% rise in emergency admissions reported by the ambulance service at certain points compared to the previous year.


Jeremy Hunt had already postponed planned operations until the middle of January, that has now been extended to the end of the month, prompting the apology.

There has been nothing as specific from Vaughan Gething, other than to say it is up to the health boards to make the calls as they see fit, and that in time the impact will become apparent once the statisticians have gone through the data.

And of course it depends what happens over the next few weeks, this winter is already gearing up to have loaded more pressure on hospitals than last year.

Finally, the 50% rise in emergency calls by the ambulance service is not the only striking stat.

For example, Vaughan Gething says there are 350 medically fit people in hospital beds across Wales, in other words people that do not need to be there but for a variety of reasons have nowhere appropriate to go.


Dr Andrew Goodall also says more than half of patients in accident and emergency units are aged over 85.

And when the claim was put to Dr Goodall from the Royal College of Emergency Medicine Wales that accident and emergency departments felt like battlefields, he did not appear to disagree.

The good news people will want to know is when health services will be in a position to get on top of the situation.

The bad news is that I just asked Vaughan Gething that very question and he said there are still too many variables to know.