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Wales’ NHS requires major reform to ensure its future, says Health Minister

THE WELSH HEALTH MINISTER Eluned Morgan, is expected to address the pressing issues faced by the NHS in Wales during a conference commemorating the 75th anniversary of the healthcare system. She will emphasize that the current structure of the NHS is not equipped to meet the demands of the future and that significant reforms are necessary to preserve it for the coming generations.

The rising demand for healthcare services poses a challenge for the NHS in Wales, with conditions like cancer and diabetes projected to increase in the next two decades. The number of cancer cases is expected to rise from 20,000 to 25,000 per year, while the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes is projected to reach 17% of the population by 2035. These trends, combined with advancements in treatment and an aging population, have resulted in more complex cases that require attention.

To address these issues, the health minister will announce an independent review into the management of the NHS during her speech. This review will focus on aspects such as governance and accountability to determine whether the NHS is capable of meeting future needs effectively.

Morgan will also reiterate her calls for individuals to take responsibility for their own health and well-being, emphasizing the importance of self-care. Additionally, she will address the critical concern of staff shortages within the NHS. Wales currently faces approximately 5,000 vacant positions, leading to increased pressure on the existing healthcare workforce.

The recent strikes by NHS workers have highlighted concerns regarding pay and working conditions. Mabon ap Gwynfor, Plaid Cymru’s health spokesperson, stressed the need for recruitment and retention of staff while supporting the idea of higher taxes to improve working conditions within the NHS.

Gareth Davies, representing the Welsh Conservatives, pointed out that waiting times have consistently increased over the past 25 years since healthcare in Wales was devolved. He emphasized the importance of valuing healthcare professionals and providing clear career pathways for their progression.

In response to the challenges posed by the growing demand and backlog of patients, plans are underway to establish a regional diagnostics hub in south Wales. This hub, located in Llantrisant, aims to alleviate waiting lists by providing timely access to diagnostic tests such as CT and MRI scans, ultrasounds, and, in the future, surgical facilities. The hub’s establishment reflects the collaborative efforts of health boards to optimize resources and reduce waiting times.

The implementation of surgical hubs, separate from emergency services, has been a long-standing demand from opposition parties. By having dedicated space for elective surgeries, the hubs can ensure that emergency demands do not disrupt planned operations. This approach will enable surgeons, anesthetists, and nurses to continue their work regardless of the influx of emergency cases.

While challenges persist, the Welsh government says is determined to address the issues faced by the NHS in Wales. Through reforms, increased recruitment, improved working conditions, and strategic initiatives like the diagnostics hub, they aim to create a sustainable healthcare system that can effectively serve the population for years to come. However, as the Health Minister warns, the public may need to contribute more financially or actively engage in improving their own health to secure the future of the NHS in Wales.

Responding to the health minister’s NHS 75 speech, assistant director of the Welsh NHS Confederation Nesta Lloyd-Jones said:

“We’re calling on the Welsh and UK Governments to hold a national conversation on how the health and care system can innovate and transform to meet the needs of future generations. 

“The NHS has a history of continuously adapting to respond to opportunities and challenges. Today, the NHS continues to drive innovations in patient care, none of which would be possible without the skill, dedication and compassion of NHS staff, as well as the many social care staff, volunteers, third sector, unpaid carers and communities that support the health and wellbeing of the nation.  

“But this alone is not enough to ensure the sustainability of our health and care services for future generations. Despite all the operational challenges, the public’s unwavering commitment to the NHS should not be taken for granted.  

“We need an open and honest conversation with the public about what the future health and care service looks like. This must be centred on an NHS that is adequately and sustainably funded, an NHS that is taking care and prevention to people and their communities, an NHS that empowers and enables, and one that benefits from improving public health. It must be based on an ambitious and honest partnership between the NHS and those it serves.

“The challenge now is to use the historic moment of the NHS turning 75 to unite behind a shared vision of the NHS’s future. It is for the population and all sectors across Wales to ask what they can do to support the health and wellbeing of people now and in the future. Change must happen, it’s simply not an option to stay as we are – we need to think about the future now and what part we need to play in that future.”