Labour blames Tories for Welsh NHS failings

Nick Thomas-Symonds
Nick Thomas-Symonds says 14 years of Conservative rule have left the NHS in Wales in a "poorer state" [BBC]

A decline in satisfaction rates in the Labour-run Welsh NHS is due to the Conservative UK government, says a senior Labour figure.

Nick Thomas-Symonds, Labour's general election candidate for Torfaen, said the health service across the UK is in a "poorer state" than when Labour were last in power.

"If you look at when satisfaction rates with the NHS in Wales have been at their highest, it was in the early part of 2010," he told BBC Wales Today.

"That is because you'd had [for more than a decade] Labour governments on either side of the M4 working together."

He said 14 years of a Conservative government has left the NHS in a "poorer state" "right across the United Kingdom" and specifically within Wales.

In Wales, there are about 20,000 patient pathways waiting more than two years for treatment, whereas in England that figure is just 200.

To bring these waiting lists down, Mr Thomas-Symonds told presenter Nick Servini that Labour would provide a "cash injection" into the NHS, funded by "cracking down" on tax loopholes for non-doms, private schools and equity fund managers.

However, he denied that the situation in Wales was worse across the board than the NHS in England.

"There are aspects where you can point to statistics being better in England than Wales, [but] if you look at the English regions, you start to get a different picture again."

Who is Nick Thomas-Symonds?

Mr Thomas-Symonds was born in Panteg Hospital, Griffithstown, Pontypool, in May 1980.

He attended Oxford University, where he read politics, philosophy and economics (PPE), graduating in 2001.

First elected as the MP for Torfaen in 2015, Mr Thomas-Symonds replaced Paul Murphy (now Lord Murphy), the former Welsh secretary who had held the seat for 28 years.

Since then he has won the seat three times - by majorities of 8,169, 10,240 and 3,742.

Since 2015, he has held the roles of shadow pensions minister, shadow solicitor-general, shadow minister for security, shadow home secretary and shadow minister of state for international trade.

In 2022, he was among 39 Britons barred from entering Russia after he called on the UK government to place a total ban on exporting luxury goods to Russia.

He lives in Abersychan, Torfaen, with his wife Rebecca, three children and dog

Nick Thomas-Symonds
Nick Thomas-Symonds was first elected as the MP for Torfaen in 2015 [UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor]

Mr Thomas-Symonds added that Wales' First Minister Vaughan Gething has the backing of Labour ahead of the general election.

Mr Gething's Welsh Labour leadership has been mired in controversy after his campaign accepted £200,000 from a company whose boss was twice convicted of environmental offences.

Mr Thomas-Symonds said he was not aware of a single Member of the Senedd (MS) who did not have confidence in Mr Gething's leadership.

However, he refused to answer whether he would have accepted the donation if he were in Mr Gething's position.

"I can't go back and answer a hypothetical question, but what I can say is that in any contest... I certainly will always follow the rules," he said.

"And that's what Vaughan Gething did."

He acknowledged that "concerns that have been raised", which he said is why former First Minister Carwyn Jones has been asked to review the rules.

"I absolutely 100% have confidence in Vaughan Gething. I support the job that he is doing."

Nick Servini and Nick Thomas-Symonds
Nick Thomas-Symonds's full interview with BBC Wales' Nick Servini will be broadcast on BBC One Wales at 19:00 on Tuesday [BBC]

Mr Thomas-Symonds added that, if Labour were to a win a majority in Westminster, the government would be "demanding" of the devolved administrations, including the Labour-run Welsh government.

"That will mean that you have a constructive relationship," he said.

"You won't have a government at Westminster anymore, that is constantly trying to undermine the devolved settlement."

However, Mr Thomas-Symonds said he could make no promises on Wales being allocated extra funding due to spending on HS2 in England.

Welsh ministers have claimed Wales has missed out on billions of pounds of funding due to HS2 being designated an "England and Wales" scheme by the UK Treasury - despite it not crossing the border.

"I can't sit here and make promises of things that I can't cost that I can't say to you where the money is coming from," said Mr Thomas-Symonds.

"That's the approach that, frankly, got Liz Truss into such a mess and for which people up and down Wales are still paying the cost."

You can watch Nick Thomas-Symonds' full interview online.

David TC Davies, the Conservative Welsh Secretary, will be interviewed on Thursday, representatives of Reform UK and the Liberal Democrats on Friday and Plaid Cymru leader Rhun ap Iorwerth on Monday.

Nick Servini: my five interview takeaways

Labour confidence: It was the one moment when a slip of the tongue revealed a crack in the usually bulletproof Labour facade. Instead of the standard "if we're privileged enough to serve" etc.. he blurted out "when we win there are specific changes we are going to make". The beauty of the long-form interview is that you can get the politicians off the pre-prepared scripts to get sense of how they are really feeling. Nick Thomas-Symonds was disciplined as you would expect with just a few days before a critical moment in the campaign when Labour publishes its manifesto, but his confidence shone through.

Blaming UK government for devolved Welsh NHS: The Conservatives have made the performance of the NHS in Wales – which has been run by the Welsh Labour government since the start of devolution – a big part of their attack on the party. Labour prefers to say performance woes are due to the poor relationship between Westminster and Cardiff Bay, and cuts passed down the line from the Tories. Nick Thomas-Symonds set a benchmark that the party could be held to if it wins and things still don’t get better – by saying that his government would “expect improvement” here. But with UK Labour claiming “reform or die” there won’t be many places for Labour to hide if improvements aren’t made.

Support for Vaughan Gething: The long arm of UK Labour's senior leadership has been well and truly wrapped around Vaughan Gething after a turbulent first few months as first minister. I pushed him a number of times on the row over political donations in the leadership context but Mr Thomas-Symonds did not budge an inch. The message was Vaughan Gething has the total support of Labour at Westminster.

Tax cuts or investment in public services: With the Conservatives pledging further tax cuts in their manifesto, making a choice between tax cuts or investment in public services was dodged by Mr Thomas-Symonds by saying they won’t have to make that choice as they will grow the economy. Many may find this over-optimistic, and convenient, when it has been so difficult to achieve in any meaningful way in recent years. But for Labour it is the answer to the problems the country faces and the party insists it can find a way to generate wealth that can then be spent by ministers.

Brexit: Refighting the old battles of the EU referendum campaign is not on the agenda. That was the answer from Nick Thomas-Symonds after I put it to him that some see Brexit as the elephant in the room in any discussion about economic growth. Single market, customs union or freedom of movement will not be re-opened but he said better relations with the EU on security and trade relations will be back in the frame.

General election candidates for Torfaen:

Nikki Brooke - Heritage Party

Philip Davies - Green

Lee Dunning - Independent

Nathan Edmunds - Conservative

Matthew Jones - Plaid Cymru

Brendan Roberts - Liberal Democrat

Nick Thomas-Symonds - Labour

Ian Williams - Reform UK