Guest post by Chris von Ruhland
Chris von Ruhland is the Green Party’s constituency candidate for Cardiff North and regional list candidate for South Wales Central.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, My Cardiff North.
The NHS in Wales is at crisis point
Working conditions for many health workers are becoming intolerable. Clinicians are leaving to escape the ‘overwhelming bureaucracy, paperwork and rationing of healthcare’; numbers leaving the profession are approaching those that are newly trained. Nursing staff skip breaks, work late and feel unable to deliver the care they would like. Nearly a quarter are looking to leave healthcare altogether, and fewer than half would recommend it as a career.
Coupled with this, over 50% of adults in Wales are overweight or obese, and the number of people with diabetes is expected to reach 300,000 in less than 10 years. Within 15 years, the number of people aged 75 or over will have increased by 76 per cent, and older people are more likely to have at least one chronic condition, such as diabetes, dementia or arthritis, and have more as their age increases. Moreover, problems associated with mental ill health are increasing, and there is still a considerable stigma attached to mental illness; self harm remains a significant problem in Wales. In addition, Wales has some of the poorest areas in Europe; inequality in wealth matches inequality in health, and inequality in Wales is widening. There is an increasing gap in the incidence and survival rates for cancer between the richest and poorest areas. Here in Cardiff there is already a 10 year difference in life expectancy between those living in the Cyncoed and those people living in Butetown.
More money is clearly needed to meet not only existing costs, but those that are anticipated as a consequence of increased lifespan, as well as those that arise due to improvements in technology and our understanding of disease, even though these lead to better detection and treatment. With a £1.5bn cut in Welsh Assembly funding from Westminster, the Welsh NHS will be put under even greater strain. Since Wales receives a block grant from Westminster, increasing funding for the NHS will mean less money for other areas of responsibility such as education, transport, housing and the environment.
The simple solution is for everybody to pay more taxes, since a good quality public healthcare system is a hallmark of a civilised society. I have no objection to paying more taxes, indeed I’d be happy to do so if I was assured that wealthy individuals and corporations were doing likewise, rather than hiding their money away in tax havens. But simply treating ill health is not a long term solution.
Greens in the Senedd would much place greater emphasis on promoting health and wellbeing, and the prevention of disease. We believe that Wales should adopt Health 2020, the new European health policy framework which sets out a vision:
“to significantly improve the health and well-being of populations, reduce health inequalities, strengthen public health and ensure sustainable people- centred health systems that are universal, equitable, sustainable and of high quality.”
We need to plan our towns and cities to be healthier places to live, which encourage walking and cycling and, together with an integrated public transport system, reduce our dependence on cars and make our streets safer for children to play. We need to discourage out-of-town developments and retail parks in favour of easily accessible shops and services; these in turn support local economies, employ more people and strengthen communities. We need to provide people with the means to improve their own health. To its credit, the Welsh Assembly introduced a National Exercise Referral Scheme, but this was applied to people who already suffered from ill health. Regular health check-ups might be a better way of improving our health. We are already used to the idea of visiting our dentist once or twice a year to have our teeth checked; why not do the same for the rest of our bodies? Simple metrics like blood pressure, weight and diet would allow trends in our health to be identified early so that advice and help could be given before we end up in hospital. While the initial set-up cost might be high, it would be more than compensated by the long term benefits to people and society.
While the government in Westminster is perpetrating an ideologically driven attack on the poorest, the disabled and those most in need of help, here in Wales, we can do things differently. We can focus our attention on addressing the health and social inequalities by helping those in need, not those in greed. But first we need to shake up the Senedd.
By Chris von Ruhland