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Melding: Conservatives care about the NHS in Wales

Speech to the National Assembly for Wales

"Until we have genuine achievement from the Labour Government, we will hear backbencher after Labour backbencher coming out with ridiculous parodies of Conservative policies and making up all sorts of accusations about our record.

It began with the Member for Llanelli saying that we 'decimated' the hospital stock. She should go to the National Assembly Library and get the briefs on how the NHS estate was managed between 1979 and 1997 and how it has been managed since. There is no substantial difference.

The number of hospitals that were built and opened was roughly the same under the Conservative administration as it is under the present Labour administration, and the propensity to close down old stock has been pretty constant.

I presume that we can attribute this particular comment to ignorance, but those who know better should stop using this sort of statistic, because it does not promote accurate public debate.

The Minister knows that it is wrong and, in fairness, she has not made these accusations.

When we were in control NHS productivity was much higher than it is now.

More patients were being treated in 1997 than two years ago when you stopped collecting statistics on NHS activity in Wales—there was some technical difficulties with it, no doubt, but it was also fundamentally embarrassing.

We increased the number of nurses, doctors and NHS staff—that is the statistical evidence. You should argue from evidence, not just from these whimsical anecdotes that you come up with.

Let me try to explain about the accusation that we closed 70 hospitals, as if they were district general hospitals.

There are 16 district general hospitals in Wales. We are talking about small units and, sometimes, replacing larger hospitals.

However, as I said earlier, the propensity is substantially no different under Labour than it was under the Conservatives.

When you have been in Government for a similar length of time, added up, you would have had to close a similar number of hospitals and opened others and redesigned the service. That is what happens when you run a modern hospital service.

To say that we deliberately went out to close hospitals is a disgrace, as is the accusation that we did away with 8,000 beds, as if they were acute beds. We are now talking about elective treatment.

I will give way to the Minister if she wishes to place on record her regret that roughly 8,000 geriatric, long-term and psychiatric beds were closed and that that was bad for the health service.

If she believes that, she should stand up now, and if she does not, the Labour backbenchers should shut up about this accusation that we decimated the number of NHS beds.

I am quite happy to talk about the acute bed stock—we should be talking about it. We also had the £20 billion cuts. I regret that that is now official Labour Party policy, because it shoots our fox.

Alun Pugh went on and on about what the losses would be in each constituency if this policy was ever put into affect. He has stopped doing that since it has become the Chancellor's official policy.

We must be honest about this. In many ways, the second offer scheme is, philosophically, a good one.

There are all sorts of problems regarding the practicalities, namely when the scheme starts and what mix it uses, but does the Minister believe that this is a good scheme and that patients deserve it as of right?

Will she confirm that patients will have permanent access to this scheme within the NHS and not only as a result of this temporary grant?"

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