In many ways, this is the election in which devolved Welsh politics will come of age. Armed with new powers to determine health policy and make their own legislation, the Welsh parties are looking to set out how their approach will create clear green and red water – and a better health service – when compared with England.
The Welsh health service has of course been going its own way for some time, with the Welsh Assembly Government taking steps to dismantle the internal market, rule out the use of PFI and promote integration between hospitals and community care. Yet the English situation remains relevant. With the NHS reforms across the border continuing to attract controversy and opposition, the parties will wish to show how the Welsh way is different. Expect Labour and Plaid Cymru to make much of this difference as they seek to reverse a relatively strong showing for the Conservatives in Wales at the 2010 General Election.
However, the cross-border context provides another important reference point, as patients and the media are already comparing waiting times and access to treatments such as cancer drugs between the Principality and England. The Conservatives have already attempted to highlight this difference, arguing that the market-focus in England has benefited patients there.
The election has already seen the parties do battle on the issue of cancer, with Plaid Cymru, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives all pledging to establish a cancer plan and the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives promising to introduce a Welsh version of the Cancer Drugs Fund policy which has been introduced in England. Labour has countered by pledging that every cancer patient should receive their own personal care plan, with a greater focus on measuring and comparing outcomes with elsewhere in the UK.
All the parties have also set out how they would measure progress in improving health services, with Labour pledging to develop a raft of new clinically-focused targets; Plaid Cymru promising a maximum 26 weeks referral to treatment waiting time target; the Liberal Democrats pledging self-referral to physiotherapy and occupational health services; and the Conservatives looking at ambulance response times.
Read the manifestos in full: