'Sticking-plaster solution will come at a heavy cost to other health services' Elin Jones argues that improving out-of-hours GP care cannot be at the expense of district general hospital services.
THE need for better out-of-hours GP provision proved to be a crucial issue for voters at the last Assembly election.
Plaid Cymru believes it is vital that the new Labour government acts to solve the problem patients across Wales face in accessing care out of hours. But it is vital this is not done at the cost of other vital health services, like those provided by our district general hospitals.
It is clear action is needed to ensure services provided by GPs better meet the needs of the communities they serve, which in some cases will mean opening their surgeries in the evenings and on Saturdays.
It is also clear this situation could have been avoided altogether if, back in the second Assembly, Brian Gibbons, as Health Minister at the time, had negotiated a new GP contract for Wales.
This could have been a real opportunity to ensure GP contracts would lead to services to meet the needs of Welsh communities.
Instead he went along with what was being done in England.
A different approach at that time could have seen Wales maintaining Saturday and evening surgeries.
But a different approach wasn't taken by Labour at that time, which has led us to the problems being faced by Welsh patients now.
While Labour has suggested it will bring forward plans to improve out-of-hours provision, there is no sense such plans can be implemented without affecting other essential health services. The new Health Minister must come clean with the Welsh public and tell us exactly how she intends to pay for increased out-of-hours GP provision her party has promised.
If Labour is going to extend GP opening hours without renegotiating contracts, this will inevitably mean paying them extra.
And this extra will have to come from somewhere.
The danger is this 'Sticking-plaster solution will come at a heavy cost to other health services' The Minister needs to spell out the full details of her plans and come clean on whether they will, as I fear, lead to the downgrading of district general hospital services.
Plaid Cymru believes the government should be looking at the wholesale re-negotiation of the terms and conditions of all health service staff, including GPs.
GP contracts should ensure they meet the needs of their communities as part of their core service and not as a series of add-ons.
But Labour, governing alone, is afraid to take the bold steps necessary. They are content to tinker around the edges rather than grasp the nettle and really get to grips with the problems.
Yet again they risk falling short of doing what needs to be done.
This is in stark contrast to the bold way in which the previous, Plaid-driven, government dealt with the problems caused by market mechanisms in the NHS by getting rid of them.
The very real danger is that if the Labour government continues to shirk its responsibilities and resist taking difficult decisions, the communities of Wales will pay the price.
In terms of out-of-hours GP provision, tinkering around the edges of the problem without ensuring value for money will prove to be very costly. It will inevitably lead to other essential health services being slashed.
The question is, where will Labour's axe fall if they throw extra money at this issue.
Whatever the answer, the least we should be able to expect from the Health Minister is that she is honest with the people of Wales. I will continue to press for answers.
[bar] Wales' communities will pay the price if the Labour Government does not take the difficult decisions it needs to
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|Publication:||Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)|
|Date:||Sep 12, 2011|
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