Guest post by Fiona Burt
Fiona Burt is an independent constituency candidate for Cardiff North.
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 heart of the matter
When the National Assembly for Wales was formed in 1999 we were promised a government in Wales that would make decisions and pass laws to address the specific needs of our country. Since then, rather than a bright future, we have suffered a decline in our public services. It’s time for the Assembly to fulfil its purpose and tackle these with sensible, well-thought-through policies that get right to the heart of the issues.
Take the National Health Service, for example. I’ve worked in the NHS and I passionately support healthcare that’s free at the point of delivery, but the reality is services are currently stretched to breaking point, with ambulances queuing up outside A&E, operations cancelled due to lack of hospital beds and GP appointments difficult to get in many areas.
When Aneurin Bevan founded the NHS in 1948 with a budget of £437million (£15 billion in today’s money), the range of treatments available were somewhat limited. Since then, medical research has resulted in amazing advances in drug therapies, diagnostic tests, and surgical techniques. Unfortunately, all these come at a cost and this year the NHS budget will top £116 billion across the UK. By 2020 projections suggest a deficit of £16 billion.
The effects are not just financial, however, as our doctors and nurses are working long hours under considerable stress, with many retiring early, switching to locum work or moving abroad. And whilst I have heard many wonderful stories of excellent care by the NHS, particularly in the areas of cancer treatment and from the new children’s hospital, there are many shocking stories of people waiting for hours for an ambulance or stuck on trolleys in A&E because there are no beds available. With an ageing population, large rural areas and higher levels of social deprivation in Wales, the issues are more critical here than in the rest of the UK. Clearly something needs to be done urgently.
Prevention is better than cure, so supporting healthier lifestyles, as other candidates have proposed, is worthwhile, but even if the government could get everyone to eat healthily, exercise more, lose weight and stop smoking and drinking, this alone would be insufficient. Tackling time-wasters, bed-blockers, and mismanagement are important, whilst injecting more cash will provide short-term relief, but the heart of the problem (increased demand) must be addressed.
We need proper debate around the purpose and function of the NHS. That’s why I’ve proposed a four-point plan to ‘care for the NHS’ by:
- prioritising frontline services and critical care
- tackling hygiene and infection control
- ensuring that basic nursing care is provided in the most appropriate environment
- reviewing and reforming the area of medical negligence to ensure that money (£68 million last year alone) stays in the NHS.
Education is another area where politicians are happy to ‘tinker around the edges’. Indeed, I believe that many of the problems in our school have been caused by well-intentioned government policies. For example, the desire to manage by statistics has led to crippling levels of paperwork that have demoralised staff and failed to inspire pupils.
Most worryingly, the latest PISA results placed Wales 40th out of 68 countries (behind the rest of the UK). The answer is not to change the targets, as Huw Lewis, the Education Minister, has done. Instead, we need to get to the heart of the matter and make changes that raise standards so the next generation is fully equipped for citizenship and the workplace.
I’ve brought up three children in Cardiff North and currently have teenagers in Whitchurch and Llanishen High Schools. I know whilst formal education only starts at the age of 5, children are learning from birth. We must lay the foundations for education at home because confident parenting will result in children who are equipped for learning. In particular, values such as good behaviour and pupil aspiration should be instilled from an early age.
We need to trust the professionals. Instead of being target-driven, our teachers should be free to focus on their students and our headteachers should be empowered to manage their schools effectively without generating meaningless data.
Politicians must stop tinkering with the curriculum and simplify the overly complex examination systems so that pupils can be encouraged to learn rather than pass exams. Of course, if they learn a subject they will then be able to pass their exams! The Donaldson Report published last year is going to result in further curriculum changes in 2021 and, whilst some of these might be valuable, scrapping the ‘key stages’ and introducing ‘progression steps’ is hardly going to excite my children, or their teachers.
I’ve tried to apply this principle of ‘getting to the heart of the matter’ to all the 21 areas currently devolved to the Assembly. And, if given the opportunity to represent you there, I’d work hard to ensure that it fulfils its obligations and delivers sensible well-thought-through policies that address the specific needs of this wonderful country to ensure a bright future for Wales and its people.
By Fiona Burt