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Why the Welsh Lib Dems are right to campaign for an innovative technologies fund for the NHS

This morning’s Western Mail underlines once more why the Welsh Liberal Democrats secured a Welsh Government promise that they would set up an innovative technologies fund for the Welsh NHS and why they have been so disappointed that Labour have failed to grasp the purpose of that fund.

The paper highlights the fact that men in Wales are having to pay £15,000 for state-of-the-art prostate cancer operations that they could get for nothing if they lived in England:

Using a da Vinci “robot”, it is possible to carry out significantly more precise surgical procedures that remove cancerous cells but make it less likely for a patient to suffer side effects like post-operative pain and erectile dysfunction.

Recent studies have also demonstrated that using the da Vinci technique provides a better chance that patients will beat cancer.

But while the equipment is now used as a matter of routine elsewhere, no da Vinci robots exist in Wales.

Andy Thomas, a consultant urological surgeon at the Princess of Wales Hospital, Bridgend, said: “Men in Wales with prostate cancer are being subjected to an appalling form of postcode lottery.

“Elsewhere in Europe and in the United States, the treatment of prostate cancer by robot-assisted surgery is very common. In the US, 81% of all prostate surgery uses the da Vinci method.

“Belgium has 20 robots and England has 42. Yet currently Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have none, although Scotland is due to get one shortly.

“If I think a patient would benefit from this kind of surgery, I have to refer them to Southmead Hospital in Bristol, where if they lived in England they would be able to get surgery at no cost under the NHS. If they live in Wales, however, will cost them £15,000.

“Last year 21% of the 378 patients who has prostate surgery at Southmead were from Wales. The NHS Trust is making so much money out of Welshmen that they can now afford to buy a second robot.

“Unfortunately, we have a third rate health service in Wales. There is no innovation fund available with which the service can buy new kit.

“Prostate cancer kills 550 men in Wales every year – it’s the biggest cancer killer for men. And every year there are 2,400 new cases of prostate cancer diagnosed in Wales.

“Da Vinci robots are not just used in prostate cancer surgery, but in other conditions too. People living here deserve to access the best kind of treatment. It is shocking that they have to pay thousands of pounds to get an operation that would be free the other side of the Severn Bridge.”

Mr. Thomas wants an innovation fund in Wales to fund the purchase of this sort of equipment. Welsh Liberal Democrats agree, When will the Welsh Labour Government get it an start to use their innovation fund for the sort of purchases it was envisioned as funding rather than just a supplement to its capiatl budget?

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