Patients 'escaping' Labour's Welsh NHS seek care in English hospitals

Patients try to ‘escape’ Labour’s Welsh NHS as the number seeking care in English hospitals to avoid longer waits rises by almost 40% in two years

  • Some 39,485 patients sought elective treatment in England in 2022/23 
  • In Wales, more than 73,000 patients are waiting over 77 weeks for treatment 

Some 39,485 patients sought elective treatment, such as hip and knee operations, in England in 2022/23, figures have revealed. This was up 39 per cent from 28,405 in 2020/21 and 9 per cent higher than the 36,095 in 2021/22.

In Wales, more than 73,000 patients are waiting over 77 weeks – a year and a half – for treatment but such waits have been virtually eliminated in England.

The figures also showed that 21 per cent of the Welsh population was on an NHS waiting list earlier this year – almost double the 13 per cent in England. 

The revelations come after the Department of Health yesterday revealed that Steve Barclay has written to Welsh and Scottish ministers to say he is ‘open to requests’ for their patients to be treated on the NHS in England amid record waits for care in the devolved nations.

The Health Secretary invited them to discuss what ‘lessons can be learnt’ from the different approaches taken by each government. 

Soaring numbers of patients from Wales are seeking care in English hospitals to ‘escape’ longer waits under the Labour-run Welsh NHS. Pictured: A general view of staff on a NHS hospital ward at Ealing Hospital in London

The internal NHS figures also revealed the number of Welsh residents being admitted to English hospitals in an emergency has increased by 26 per cent, from 25,195 in 2020/21 to 31,830 in 2022/23.

Wales receives £1.20 for every £1 spent on health in England but is still lagging behind in performance, said the Welsh Conservatives.

A Tory Party source in England said: ‘It is no surprise that Welsh residents would want to escape Labour’s failure on the Welsh NHS.

‘People are more likely to be stuck on a waiting list under Labour and still face long waits of the sort eliminated in England.

‘Keir Starmer says Labour in Wales is a blueprint for what they would do in Westminster – so it’s clear he can’t be trusted with the NHS.’

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made cutting hospital waiting lists one of his five key priorities after the figure hit a record 7.57million in England alone in June.

The issue is likely to be a key political battleground at the next election, and the Government is keen to argue health services would not be better managed under Labour or the SNP.

Sir Keir praised the Welsh government run by Mark Drakeford in March last year, saying it is ‘living proof of what Labour in power looks like – how things can be done differently and better’.

He added: ‘You demonstrate daily the difference Labour really makes. A blueprint for what Labour can do across the UK.’

The Secretary of State for Wales David TC Davies said Mr Barclay’s invitation was an attempt to ‘put people before politics’, telling Times Radio many of his constituents said they would ‘love’ to be treated in England.

David Jones, a Tory MP in North Wales, added: ‘Healthcare in Wales has declined progressively under Labour, who has been in control here for almost 25 years. So many of my constituents tell me they are terrified of getting old because they fear they won’t be able to access the NHS when they need it.

‘They are now considering retiring to England so they can get more timely access to operations, dentists and ambulances.

‘Labour says the NHS is safe in its hands but it is clearly not. They have shown they are not capable of running such a large service and are financially incompetent.

‘If anyone wants to see what a disaster the NHS would be like under Labour in England, they only need to look to Wales, where services have got worse and worse. I wouldn’t want them running a health service anywhere.’

But SNP health minister Michael Matheson pointed to record waiting lists and ongoing strikes hitting NHS England as examples of problems affecting the service south of the border. 

‘The NHS in England is about to experience its fifth round of strikes by junior doctors, with the waiting list for hospital treatment rising by over 100,000 to a record high of over 7.5million as a result of the UK Government’s refusal to even get around the negotiating table,’ he said.

‘Rather than attempting to involve themselves in devolved areas, the UK Government would be well served focusing on tackling the many issues in the service south of the border.’

A Welsh government spokesman said: ‘These figures relate to the planned cross-border arrangements we have had in place with NHS England for many years. People from England who live near the Welsh border can be treated in Wales and vice versa. Long waiting times are falling every month in Wales and have more than halved in the past year.

‘In contrast, waiting times in England have risen by over 12 per cent, compared to 3.6 per cent in Wales, and we continue to invest record amounts in our health service to continue to improve all aspects of healthcare.’

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