Joyce Watson AM’s ‘Politically Speaking’ column

At a Labour Party meeting in Ystradgynlais last Saturday we discussed plans for the NHS’s 70th birthday celebrations.

The health minister Vaughan Gething recently visited Welshpool hospital to thank staff and the community for their efforts in responding to May’s flash floods.

While there, he spoke to staff at the dialysis unit who were concerned about a tendering process being run by Betsi Cadwaladr health board. I asked the minister about this at Assembly question time on 23 May – and he assured me that the Welsh Government would never approve the transfer of NHS staff into the private sector. He promise the same to Victoria Memorial staff. As well as thanking NHS staff past and present who look after us, politicians of all stripes should follow Vaughan’s lead this anniversary year and pledge to defend our cradle-to-grave, free to all at the point of delivery National Health Service.

While we celebrate the past, we must plan for the future. In the decades to come more of us can expect to live longer, which is great news but presents challenges. The Welsh Government has set out its long-term vision for health and social care, A Healthier Wales. The strategy focusses on delivering more joined-up services in the community, closer to home, freeing-up general hospitals to provide essential care. In England there has been talk of a so-called ‘Brexit dividend’ for the NHS, though it is not clear where the money will come from. In Wales changes are already underway, backed by a £100 million Transformation Fund. It is the first time a Welsh government has made a joint plan for health and social care, recognising that they can be two sides of the same coin. Powys led the way – it was the first local authority and health board in Wales to integrate its health and social care systems, giving staff including community nurses, mental health teams, social workers and therapists shared access to relevant information.

Not all carers are professionals, though. There are an estimated 370,000 unpaid carers in Wales – family members, friends and neighbours. While they look after loved ones, it is crucial they care for themselves too. So to mark carers’ awareness week, the social care minister, Huw Irranca-Davies, reminded carers of their legal right to an assessment to see whether they need support to carry out their responsibilities and, if they do, to have that support provided.

Finally, one of the privileges of being a politician is promoting campaigns. ‘Message in a Bottle’ is an initiative to clean up the River Severn, from source to mouth. I was ticked off by the Presiding Officer last week for taking in to the Senedd chamber a bag of rubbish I gathered from just one square metre of Llandanwg Beach. Having watched David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II series, with those depressing scenes of discarded plastics, Philip Stallard from Llanidloes decided to do something about it. He has organised a day of action a week Saturday, 30 June. Good for him and good luck to everyone taking part!