Helen Mary Jones AM, Plaid Cymru shadow health minister warns that privatisation of our Welsh NHS is already happening - and not because of US trade deals.
When a certain US President said last week that the NHS would be on the negotiating table during post-Brexit US-UK trade talks many across the political spectrum rightfully responded in uproar.
Our NHS is not for sale and any attempt to sell any parts of it off will be met with fierce resistance.
However, I could not help feel it was disingenuous of Welsh Labour when they said that they wouldn’t allow the Welsh NHS to be on the table.
It was particularly dishonest because it was only last year that Welsh Labour gave powers over public procurement – including our NHS, away to Westminster to be included in the EU Withdrawal Act as part of the so called “intergovernmental agreement”. Plaid Cymru warned at the time that this would have serious consequences and now we face having our most prized asset facing a threat of being sold off as a direct result.
Perhaps they need to look a little closer to home. Because creeping privatisation within the health service in Wales is a real and growing issue and it’s happening under Labour’s watch.
One case in particular is Betsi Cadwaladr in North Wales which is under the control of the Labour government in Wales.
Last year, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board backtracked planned to privatise the dialysis service and even transfer NHS nurses into the private sector in Wrexham and Welshpool.
They were forced to backtrack after a year of pressure and protests by nursing unions and Plaid Cymru.
Now it seems there is a second attempt with the board turning to private companies to run hospital pharmacies in our three district general hospital, Ysbyty Gwynedd, Wrexham Maelor and Ysbyty Glan Clwyd.
Private firms are moving into healthcare because of the consequences of the decisions taken by Betsi Cadwaladr health board and long-standing financial pressures facing Betsi Cadwaladr, which has a deficit in the tens of millions, is leading senior management to take some desperate measures to try to balance the books.
Take plans for a new community-style hospital in St Asaph, for example. It was a direct result of the closure of community hospitals in 2013.
More than 50 beds were lost when community hospitals were lost in Flint, Llangollen, Prestatyn and Blaenau Ffestiniog.
Back then I warned that step-up, step-down provision was required, particularly with an ageing population in north Wales. But the health board and the Welsh Government insisted on the closure of those hospitals. We now see the consequences of those closures – more patients being admitted to district general hospitals and unable to go to community care due to a lack of beds.
It’s been a hugely costly mistake for the NHS.
Allowing more private firms to run parts of our NHS is the thin end of the wedge and, while Labour is fiercely opposed to Tories doing this in England they seem remarkably relaxed about it here in Wales.
The hypocrisy is breath-taking.
The policy of the Labour Government in Wales when Carwyn Jones first became First Minister was to phase out the use of the private sector completely by 2011. However, spending on the use of private sector providers has gone up substantially since 2011 under Labour. In 2011, it was at £14 million; in 2017 it was £38.5 million. That's a 260 per cent increase over the last seven years.
There is a policy of privatisation by stealth as a sticking plaster to mask longer term structural problems within the Welsh NHS.
Using the private sector is not how a capable government builds a sustainable NHS. Long-term planning requires you to train the workforce, buy the equipment needed, so you have the capacity to meet the demands in the future.
Outsourcing health services can’t save money as we saw with the collapse of outsourcing companies such as Carillion. Private companies have no place in the Welsh NHS and we must resist any attempts by private sector to increase their foothold here in Wales.
Plaid Cymru believes that what our Welsh NHS really needs now more than ever is to conjure up the spirit of Bevan in reinventing a NHS for tomorrow’s Wales.
This means ending the historic divide between health and care and creating a national care service free at the point of delivery and funded from taxation, just like the NHS.
This means creating a national health service centred on the patient, which puts prevention and healthy living at the heart of its health strategy.
This means recruiting and training an additional 5,000 nurses and 1000 extra doctors for our Welsh NHS and offering financial incentives to new doctors in hard-to-recruit areas.
This means introducing a carers’ contract to support those who care for others, a social care rescue plan for independent living and increasing the role of community hospitals.
This means using the power of technology – particularly digital technology and genomics, to provide a service fit for the days we live in.
This means never privatising any aspect of the NHS and protecting our health service from private predators.
Our NHS was founded on Welsh values and vision to be funded out of general taxation, free at the point of delivery, comprehensive, fair and universal.
Let us not forget this.