There is no part of our public services that faces more challenges than health. An aging population, coupled with rising drug cots represent a gathering crisis for health systems around the world. But in Wales, birthplace of the NHS, they have been compounded by poor leadership since the onset of devolution that have left us with a poorly structured service, delivering far poorer health outcomes than in comparable parts of Europe or the UK.
Wales now needs to conjure up the spirit of Bevan in reinventing a NHS for tomorrow’s Wales. Our radical new vision consists of:
• Ending the perverse historic divide between health and care;
• Creating a people-powered health service, centred on the patient, putting prevention and healthy living at the heart of our health strategy;
• Using the power of technology – particularly digital technology and genomics, to provide a service fit for the 21st century
We commit absolutely to the NHS and will not privatize any aspect of its work. In fact we will extend the entitlement to free care to other aspects of well-being. Our ambitious plans include transformative policies which will put the patient at the heart of service delivery.
Our Key Health Policies
1. A National Commitment on Cancer
Our aim is simple; currently Wales has some of the worst cancer survival rates in Europe, and we aim to right this wrong.
Our plan contains three elements; (1) More prevention of cancer, (2) Faster and Earlier Diagnosis of Cancer, and (3) More support during and after treatment for those suffering from cancer. Each of these elements will contain several policies we will implement if we are in Government following the election.
Our policies to prevent cancer will not only include tougher and renewed efforts to reduce the numbers who are smokers, but also tackling obesity (a factor in developing cancer) through the introduction of a sugary drinks tax. We will also ensure that men, as well as women, receive the HPV Vaccine.
We will also speed up access to diagnosis. Currently, Wales has substantially longer waiting times than elsewhere in the UK. Although the percentages fluctuate each month, on average around a third of those needing an MRI scan wait longer than 6 weeks compared to just 1% of those waiting for an MRI in England.
Plaid Cymru has committed to ensuring that 95% of those people whom a GP suspects may have cancer, will receive a definitive diagnosis or the all clear within 28 days. To achieve this we will build three new specialist diagnostic centres. Our new diagnostic centres would help to ease this pressure, and would be a one-stop shop for a variety of tests to be performed, so that patients would have a diagnosis or the all clear within a shorter space of time.
The final part of our cancer contract is to provide better support for those diagnosed with Cancer both during and after treatment. Here, the role of a key worker who is able to help patients (and refer them to more specialist advice services if needed) with matters such as financial advice, help with benefits, and referral for counselling if needed is crucial.
We would also end the postcode lottery when it comes to accessing treatment. Our new treatments fund will ensure access to cancer treatments that are clinically effective regardless of where patients live. We do not believe it is acceptable that patients have to move house to receive treatments, or go through a stressful and bureaucratic process to prove they are ‘exceptional’.
2. Investing in 1000 doctors and 5000 nurses
Today’s NHS is characterized by a shortage of doctors and an overuse of locums. The number of doctors per head in Wales is lower than the UK and European averages, despite our higher ill-health statistics. We will recruit and train 1000 extra doctors for our Welsh NHS. In hard-to-recruit areas and specialisms we will offer financial incentives to new doctors.
Plaid Cymru supports safe staffing legislation and will extend the settings to which minimum safe staffing levels would apply to other healthcare settings including community health services, mental health wards and children’s units.
Our workforce plan will be for the entirety of the NHS workforce. NHS work is multi-disciplinary, requiring individuals and teams to be multi-skilled. We will ensure that an additional 5000 nurses are trained and recruited into the NHS, with at least half to be roles providing community based services.
We will explore ways in which healthcare support workers who want to can more easily develop their skills to become fully qualified nurses, occupational therapists or counsellors.
We will also ensure that nurses are able to access continuous professional development, with protected training time, and ensure that more nurses are funded to specialist level.
3. Abolish home care charges for the elderly and people with dementia
Plaid Cymru will phase out charges for social care for people over the age of 65. This will start with an elimination of home care charges for people receiving non-residential social care (these charges are currently capped at £60 a week), before we then eliminate residential care charges for people with a diagnosis of dementia.
It is a scandal that people who have worked all their lives, paid taxes and contributed so much to society are forced to sell their own homes to pay for care. It cannot be right that people who are diagnosed with dementia are faced with care bills that often amount to tens of thousands of pounds, when people diagnosed with other serious conditions like cancer will get all their care for free.
Phase one of this policy will be abolishing charges for home care services, and work will start on this immediately. To ensure local authorities do not lose out from this policy, the revenue that they would have previously raised through charges will be added to their budgets – local authorities will be able to make a small saving as a result of not having an administrative process for assessing and collecting charges.
Phase two of this policy will extend to those people in residential care settings who have a diagnosis of dementia. We would expect charges for those people to be abolished for the start of the 2018/9 financial year