The introduction of the soft opt-out organ donation system in Wales has overshadowed a budget book balancing conundrum, writes Richard Gurner
Wales’ first minister Carwyn Jones was full of cheer in his New Year message to voters before leading Labour into the Assembly elections in just under four months’ time.
Boasting of his Government’s record on education, the economy and the NHS, the first minister also drew attention to the introduction of its opt-out organ donation law.
A soft opt-out on organ donation came into effect last month and is something on which BMA Cymru Wales lobbied hard.
Mr Jones said: ‘For me, one of our greatest achievements of the year was Wales becoming the first country in the UK to introduce a new system for organ donation.
‘Our revolutionary, soft opt-out system will save lives — it’s really as simple as that.’
In his message, the first minister was also keen to press home the amount of money being invested in the NHS this year.
Mr Jones said: ‘In recent years, we have seen significant extra demand being placed on our health service, but we continue to invest record amounts in the Welsh NHS, such is its value.
‘This investment is set to continue, with nearly £300m announced in the draft budget for the health service in Wales in 2016/17.’
What he failed to mention, however, was that Welsh health boards have already overspent on their budgets for this year.
As of October last year — the halfway point in the current financial year — Welsh health boards had already overspent by £90m.
Out of the seven health boards, just one was reporting that it was at break-even so far.
In a report presented to board members in November, Powys Teaching Health Board states it was also due to end the year by balancing its books.
Cwm Taf University Health Board reported that it would break even by the end of the financial year, clawing back a £2.4m overspend in the first half of the year.
The other five health boards all reported sizeable overspends that would get bigger by the end of the year.
Health boards no longer have to break even at the end of a financial year.
Thanks to new rules introduced by the Welsh Government this year, health boards have to make sure their budgets balance every three years.
This means that new money promised for next year will end up paying for this year’s overspends — but what about next year’s overspends and the year after that?
Last year, BMA Cymru Wales called for the Welsh Government and Welsh health bodies to be more ‘upfront’ about NHS resources and that more ‘honesty’ was needed in the use of language. Don’t hold your breath.
Richard Gurner is BMA Wales correspondent