Labour is justifiably fixated with Tory incompetence, but their own mismanagement of the Welsh NHS is in their blind spot.
The news headlines across the UK have been overwhelmingly full, in the last few days, with story after story about the crisis within the NHS. In Wales, last week saw a day where we had four separate NHS stories in our BBC news bulletins alone. These included the services described as being ‘on a knife-edge’, the Welsh Government advising for patients to be discharged without care packages, and two cases of patients struggling to get access into hospital.
In one case, a pensioner described how he had waited overnight outside a hospital in an ambulance as other elderly pensioners were passing out in the A&E department.
The other was of a grandson who had found his elderly grandfather collapsed at home over Christmas with a cardiac arrest. Upon calling 999, he was told that no ambulance was available, so proceeded to take his grandfather to hospital himself, and had to physically carry him into the A&E department.
Scenes like these are happening all over the UK. People are waiting days in A&E, weeks for doctor’s appointments and years for planned treatment.
The pictures of ambulances queueing up outside hospitals, unable to offload their patients due to bed shortages, and of exhausted workers forced to take to the picket lines because the only other option is to walk away from a vocation they love.
Labour, under Keir Starmer’s watch have been quick to criticise Sunak’s government. “They broke the NHS” declared Keir Starmer, adding “it’s time for a Labour government!”
Social media posts from supporters are often accompanied by the now familiar hashtag of #GTTO – Get the Tories out.
It’s all too easy to assume that these criticisms apply just as equally in Wales as they do in England.
And in many ways, they do. Underfunded, under-resourced and staff that are over-worked. The story in Wales is as familiar as it is in England.
But there’s one important difference: the NHS in Wales is not run by the Tories, but by Labour. And it has been for 25 years.
Since the dawn of devolution, and the formation of the then National Assembly of Wales, Welsh Labour have run the government here in Wales.
Now a National Parliament, with law making powers, you might expect the NHS in Wales to be a shining example to the rest of the UK. After all, it’s founder, Aneurin Bevan was born and raised on this very soil.
Therefore, the decline of the NHS in Wales, where one in five people on a hospital waiting list, has happened on Welsh Labour’s watch.
It’s not just the underfunding – for which all paths lead inevitably back to Westminster – it’s also the complete lack of investment in social care, and a lack of engagement with worker disputes.
Because for all of the justified calls for the Tory UK Government to meet with Health Union leaders, the Labour Welsh Government which has equally avoided meaningful discussions to resolve the pay dispute.
The Welsh Government should be doing what the Scottish government is doing under the leadership of the SNP. The Scottish Government has managed to find money for an improved pay offer which has led to two of the health unions calling off strike action. That’s real leadership, and there’s no reason why the Welsh government can’t use the powers that it has at its disposal to do likewise.
It’s deeply frustrating to see the response by the Welsh Labour government – they’re prepared to call out the Tories, yet they’re doing exactly the same here in Wales. Time and time again Plaid Cymru has urged Welsh Government to look at all the levers at their disposal - taxation, reserves, reallocation to prioritise fair pay in both the NHS and social care.
The Labour party is actually turning its back on 100 years of its own history. It was founded to be the voice for working people and the voice of the trade unions. Yet it’s not prepared to listen to what the trade unions and workers’ representatives are saying to them in the health sector and in other sectors.
It’s only a short while ago that we all clapped from our doorsteps for the NHS staff, who are now driven to the edge by the stress that they’re under. Claps don’t pay the bills, and they feel so undervalued.
Our health and care service needs healing - and a sticking plaster won't cut it.