The publication of the Welsh Assembly Government's draft Budget on Wednesday raised a din of criticism and debate. Tories claim that the NHS risks losing £880 million, but Health Minister Edwina Hart maintains that the budget protects the health service.
According to Mrs. Hart, the "tough but fair" health and social services settlement will protect key frontline services and will result in an improvement in people's health. It will also ensure the safety and protection of children and vulnerable adults.
Calls for a ring-fencing of the health budget have been dismissed, with Mrs. Hart claiming that this would result in cuts in other vital services, which would have a negative impact on people's overall health. "We have had to make tough and difficult choices over our priorities given the savage funding cuts from the UK Government."
"By protecting funding for front-line hospital and community health services, we will ensure that the most vulnerable members of society will continue to have access to the services they need, when they need them." This, she argued, would give the NHS a firm platform from where to continue delivering improvements in healthcare performance and outcomes.
Social services funding will be protected through local Government settlement, which includes a £35 million increase by 2013-14. Despite protecting these services, the draft Budget implies a 6.3% cut in real terms over the same period, with other Assembly Government departments facing double-digit budget reductions in addition.