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HEALTH BILL WILL HELP TO MODERNISE NHS IN WALES - MINISTER

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The benefits the creation of local health boards will bring to the NHS in Wales were spelled out by Wales Office mi...
The benefits the creation of local health boards will bring to the NHS in Wales were spelled out by Wales Office minister Don Touhig at a health forum today.

Addressing the health and social care forum, organised by the Gwent Association of Voluntary Organisations (GAVO), he said the government's NHS Bill would help modernise the health service in Wales.

Mr Touhig, who was responsible for taking the Welsh clauses of the NHS Reform and Health Care Professions Bill through the house of commons committee stages, said: 'The strengthening of local health groups, allied with a new sense of leadership, direction and oversight of the NHS by the national assembly, will deliver a key part of the NHS Plan in Wales.

'The Welsh clauses, and the clauses in the Bill affecting both England and Wales, are the government's contribution to the continuing modernisation of the NHS in Wales.'

He emphasised that the government was not seeking unilaterally to impose these provisions on Wales.

'The Welsh provisions in the Bill, and indeed those affecting both England and Wales equally, have been the subject of close consultation and co-operation between the government and the national assembly,' he said.

'This Bill will enable the national assembly for Wales to take a major step forward in developing the local health group model through the creating of local health boards.

'This Bill is intended to provide the legislative power to establish local health boards to succeed local health groups to commission and, in certain circumstances, provide health care services on behalf of their populations.

Mr Touhig said that the establishment of local health boards was an essential part of structural reform in Wales.

He also emphasised the importance of the duty on the new local health boards and local authorities to formulate and implement health and well-being strategies for their areas. This requirement would reinforce the sssembly's commitment to joint working between the NHS and local government - and it is expected that the wider stakeholder group, including the voluntary and independent sectors, would be fully involved in setting the strategic agenda contained in the health and well-being strategies.

'The new arrangements will build on the valuable experience gained by our local health groups over the last few years,' said Mr Touhig. 'They will open up new opportunities for doctors, nurses and other health professionals, local authorities, NHS trusts, the voluntary sector and local people to work together in assessing the health needs of their communities and in securing services to meet those needs.'

Referring to the role of the voluntary sector, Mr Touhig said that by the end of March the Building Strong Bridges project should be completed.

'This is being carried out by assembly officials in partnership with Wales Council for Voluntary Action and its member groups,' he said. 'Among the aims of the project are the strengthening of the role of the voluntary sector onlocal health boards, and the identification of training and professional development needs and other support mechanisms in order to maintain voluntary sector partnership working at all levels.'

Summing up, Mr Touhig said the Bill demonstrated the commitment of the government to the principle of devolution.

'The national assembly continues to develop a range of policies that are distinct for Wales, reflecting different local and national conditions and perspectives,' he said. 'The government is implementing, through primary legislation, different frameworks for the NHS in Wales and England but is happy to do this because the ultimate aim in both cases is to improve the NHS for all involved.'

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