Organ donation is a start but there is much more that Theresa May and the Conservatives can learn from Welsh Labour, argues Welsh health secretary Vaughan Gething AM
In the middle of the chaos, the coughing and the catastrophe, Theresa May did actually manage to splutter out a couple of interesting things in her now infamous speech to conference.
Perhaps the most important one was the announcement that the United Kingdom government will follow Welsh Labour’s lead and move to presumed consent for organ donation.
Even though we are just a couple of years in to this new system it is already having a real impact. More organs are being donated and, most importantly, the number of people who die while waiting for a donor has fallen by a fifth.
I am pleased that the Tories are finally doing this and that the Scottish government are following suit too. While polls and surveys show that organ donation has overwhelming support; that people know the value of it and want to donate themselves, opt in rates were always substantially lower in practice. This is not a problem unique to Britain, but it is a problem. Despite most people wanting to be an organ donor, having that conversation with close friends and family is not always the easiest. Nobody wants or likes to think about what happens after we die, particularly if you are young. It is easy to put it off, tell ourselves that it is okay, we can do it next year, or at some point in the future. Presumed consent turns the problem on its head. It better represents our views as a country to organ donation, removes the barriers of opting in while still allowing those that do not want to donate their organs to opt out.
It is a policy I am particularly proud of and one that I know will continue to help those at their time of greatest need.
But as welcome as this shift is, it highlights an interesting problem with the very way that the Tories have approached government since 2010. On this, like too many other things they are playing catch up because their ideological mistrust of the state means they do not give public services the space to innovate.
Look at the Cancer Drugs Fund. A flagship Tory health policy, now widely recognised as a huge waste of money, it was dumped in 2015. In Wales, we worked together to create our innovative new treatment fund which gives access to new medicine and treatments to all people suffering with life threatening illness and ensures there is no postcode lottery. And that is the Labour way – progressive public services with the funding and support to deliver real outcomes.
When the Tories last ran the NHS in Wales waiting lists were as long as two years, they failed to invest in new hospitals and cancer survival rates were terrible. Now, despite the Tories cutting over £1bn from our budget, we are really delivering for the people of Wales. Thanks to Welsh Labour in Government, we now have more doctors and nurses than ever before, health spend is at its highest ever levels and around £170 a year more per person than England, prescriptions are free for all and waiting lists are falling.
In Wales we have record levels of foreign investment and lower unemployment than London, Scotland and most English regions because the Welsh Labour government has worked with business. We are closing the attainment gap between those poorer pupils and those better off. We have the most generous childcare offer for working parents in the UK, though unlike the Tories botched attempts at rolling their own policy out that has plunged providers and parents into uncertainty, we are rolling ours out in a collaborative way.
Organ donation is a start but there is much more that May and the Tories can learn from Welsh Labour.
Vaughan Gething is Welsh Labour cabinet secretary for health and social services. He tweets at @vaughangething
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