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Morgan announces £5m sticking plaster

Portraits of Welsh Government Ministers and Deputy Ministers, 19 November 2019

DAYS after physiotherapists in the Welsh NHS went on strike, and Wales’s midwives announced they would strike on February 7, Welsh Health Minister Eluned Morgan announced £5m in funding for the Welsh NHS.

The £5m aims to increase the number of allied health professionals (AHPs) in Wales, including physiotherapists, dietitians, and psychologists, and increase access to “community-based care to help people remain active and independent”. And cheaper to treat.
Available from April 2023, the funding will increase the number of community-based AHPs and support workers in the NHS. The Welsh Government hopes the increased funding will reduce hospital admissions and help speed up patients’ discharge. Earlier this month, Wales’s health boards were told to speed up hospital discharges to home even where patient care packages were not in place. The piecemeal announcement of different initiatives suggests a lack of coherent strategy or an inability to join the dots in sequence at the heart of Welsh Government health policy.

Supporting people to recover at home with rehabilitation or spending less time in a hospital bed can considerably benefit people’s well-being, improve health outcomes and speed up recovery. Inpatients, especially older patients with complex health needs conditions’ can rapidly “decondition” in the hospital, increasing their time as inpatients. While no serious clinical dispute exists about that, decades of underfunding in the NHS and social care, plus the accumulated loss of workforce goodwill, means that £5m now is little more than a sticking plaster over a gushing arterial wound.

Among the aspirations the Welsh Government announced is creating “virtual wards”. It hopes those will allow patients to receive the treatment they need at home. As paramedic strikes continue and GP numbers continue to fall off the edge of a cliff, the Welsh Government shows touching faith that they can deliver primary care. It also suggests £5m will have to stretch a long way.

Minister for Health and Social Services Eluned Morgan said: “Not enough people can access the expertise of AHPs to maximise their health and improve their recovery.”

Her admission leads to questions about why that has become the case on her party’s watch.

She continued: “The focus of health and social care in Wales is on strengthening community-based services. We want people to live at home, as independently as possible and for as long as possible.

“This funding will help us to help people return home as quickly as possible, with access to the right community assessment and rehabilitation, so they can remain active for as long as possible, living with their families and doing the things they enjoy most in their daily lives.”

Shifting the burden of care onto working families without financial support is unlikely to succeed during an ongoing cost-of-living crisis.
The Chief Allied Health Professions Adviser, Ruth Crowder, said: “Demand for AHPs’ skills has risen since the pandemic. Without community AHP services, people may be admitted to hospitals when they could have been treated at home, are unable to be discharged from the hospital when their acute treatment is complete or end up moving to residential or nursing care earlier than might otherwise be the case. That adds to other pressure on our social care services. Improving access to allied health professionals will bring a wider workforce together in reformed primary care.”