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Welsh managers reject “dated” UK healthcare report

26 January 2010

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Senior healthcare managers in Wales have strongly rebuffed the findings of a recent report that said the Welsh NHS has not been as productive as England since devolution, despite more investment.

The Nuffield Trust report on the impact of devolution on health services found “striking and troubling differences” in performance between the UK nations, with some countries spending more on healthcare and employing greater numbers of staff, but performing worse on waiting times and crude productivity of staff (see link to related story below).

The report found that by 2006, virtually no patients in England waited more than three months for an outpatient appointment, whereas in Wales and Northern Ireland 44% and 61% of patients did.

By 2006, virtually all patients in England who needed inpatient or day-case treatment were seen within six months, while in Wales and Northern Ireland 79% and 84% of patients waited longer than this.

But Jan Williams, Chair of the Institute of Healthcare Management (IHM) in Wales and Chief Executive of the Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, expressed anger at the report because it failed to include more recent developments in Wales.

“For a Welsh NHS manager, the Nuffield Trust report makes disappointing reading,” she said. “The data used is now four years old and much has happened in the intervening time. The data comparisons add little value, as the differences across the UK countries in policies, definitions and rules on data capture render the analysis of limited use.

“The different time frames for achievement of national waiting time targets – 2008 in NHS England, 2009 in NHS Wales – preclude like for like comparisons and we are not told whether the English data includes the significant activity undertaken in the private sector – this would be a major distorting factor.”

She added that the focus on in-patient hospital services was a “striking limitation”, as it failed to recognise Wales’s efforts to rebalance care towards primary and community settings, and the report was “silent” on the outcomes of health inequalities reduction – one of NHS Wales’s key priorities.

A Welsh Assembly Government spokesman said: “Despite being based on data from 2006, when we were at the start of a major drive to reduce waiting times, it is encouraging to note that the report acknowledges that the NHS in Wales is leading the way and making significant steps to improve patient services and healthcare.

“However, despite this overall acknowledgement of our progress, much of the report is dated, and therefore does not accurately reflect the NHS in Wales today.

“The latest figures show that during November, more than nine out of 10 patients were treated within 26 weeks from initial referral to start of definitive treatment, with many patients treated far quicker than that, and 98% of patients waiting were waiting less than 26 weeks.”


Related story: Report lays bare “troubling differences” in UK healthcare