RHODRI MORGAN has refused to publish details of how his Government plans to reduce hospital waiting times until after the general election.
Last night opposition parties reacted with anger to the First Minister's decision, pointing out that the promised reduction forms a key part of Labour's own general election manifesto.
Last Thursday we challenged the First Minister at Welsh Labour's manifesto launch to publish background papers to last month's announcement by Assembly Health Minister Brian Gibbons that by 2009, no-one in Wales will have to wait more than six months for treatment after seeing a GP. In England, the equivalent target is 18 weeks by 2008.
After a non-committal response by the First Minister, we renewed our challenge to him through the Assembly Government. In an e-mail, we asked for an explanation about how precisely extra money injected into the NHS will result in the desired outcomes.
An Assembly Government spokesperson later told us that our challenge was being regarded as a Freedom of Information request. The Assembly Government takes 20 working days to respond to FoI requests, meaning the information will be withheld until after the general election.
Elfyn Llwyd, Plaid Cymru's parliamentary leader, said last night, "Rhodri Morgan's refusal to publish details of his Government's health strategy leads us to ask whether they have a health strategy at all. It seems the latest pledge to bring down waiting times will prove as worthless as their previous pledges.
"This refusal to explain how they intend to cut waiting times is astonishing, bearing in mind that it's one of their main election pledges and that the deterioration in the health service is the top issue on the doorstep.
"Rhodri Morgan's Government is treating the people of Wales with contempt, and we applaud the Western Mail's campaign to get to the bottom of this."
Welsh Conservative health spokesman Jonathan Morgan, his party's candidate for Cardiff North, said, "It is absolutely disgraceful that Rhodri Morgan is refusing to publish his waiting times strategy before the general election. The people of Wales have a right to know whether the target that appears in Welsh Labour's manifesto for this election is any more attainable than the promise they made in 1999, that by 2003 no-one would wait more than six months for an outpatient appointment or more than 18 months for inpatient treatment.
"I am extremely sceptical about Labour's latest promise to reduce waiting times to six months overall by 2009. One Local Health Board has told me that to meet the 2006 target of two years purely for orthopaedic patients, it will need between £10m and £15m extra. How much more will it need to meet the 2009 target?
"Rhodri Morgan has no excuse for not publishing full details of how the target will be reached. He must also say whether his plan has been independently evaluated.
"I have no doubt at all that the latest target was only announced last month because of pressure put on the Assembly Government in the run up to the general election. If Rhodri Morgan persists in refusing to publish full details of the plan, people are entitled to draw the obvious conclusion - that it doesn't stand up to scrutiny."
Cardiff Central Liberal Democrat AM Jenny Randerson said, "On health, as with the Richard Commission, Labour are saying 'Trust us - we'll tell you what we're doing after the election'. Unfortunately for them, trust is the one thing people no longer have in the Labour Party.
"This kind of arrogance lost Labour their local government citadels this time last year, and will lose them MPs this time around."