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Miliband challenged on NHS probe

Labour leader Ed Miliband faced awkward questions from health campaigners today.

He was in Cardiff to talk up his party's chances in this month's European elections.

Despite being given a rapturous reception by followers in Cardiff's Queen Street, Mr Miliband was met with anger by others, who described the Welsh Labour administration's handling of the country's NHS a "national disgrace".

Among the campaigners was 54-year-old Gareth Williams, whose 93-year-old mother Lillian Williams died in 2012.

Mr Williams repeatedly pressed the Labour leader to back calls for an inquiry in Wales, following growing complaints that the administration in Cardiff Bay has mismanaged the NHS.

Previously, the Welsh Labour administration has declined to stage a public inquiry, saying it would cost too much.

Addressing the party leader, Mr Williams said: "The scandal in Mid Staffordshire in England resulted in a public inquiry.

"We desperately need one in Wales. The First Minister Carwyn Jones has repeatedly refused to hold one. I'm now calling on you, Mr Miliband, to back our calls for a public inquiry in Wales.

"The way in which hundreds of patients are being neglected is a national scandal.

"Lessons need to be learned to prevent more needless deaths.

"Aneurin Bevan (NHS founder) would be spinning in his grave today. The NHS in Wales is a pale shadow of what it used to be."

Although Labour are a dominant force in Wales in both the Assembly and House of Commons, it currently has only one of four Welsh MEPs in Brussels.

And with the rising profile of Ukip in recent weeks, Labour has pulled out all the stops in its European campaign.

Today more than 200 members, including shadow Welsh secretary Owen Smith, greeted Mr Miliband.

Standing near the city's famous Aneurin Bevan statue, supporters cheered and applauded as the Doncaster North MP went on a walkabout.

Despite a small number of protesters from his constituency campaigning for better wages for care workers, Mr Miliband looked relaxed as he chatted to passing members of the public and posed for several photographs.

Later, speaking to journalists, he reaffirmed his party's commitment to ordinary working people and drew attention to his cost-of-living contract - which aims to reduce poverty.

He said: "What I am interested in is how we can change things for the better for people and that's my focus in this campaign.

"Labour's campaigning on the right issues, which is the cost-of-living crisis, which so families are facing here in Wales.

"Whether it's our policies on an energy price freeze or the living wage or zero- hours contracts... we understand the deep discontent with the way the Government of Westminster is running things."

Mr Miliband said he hoped to build on recent general election opinion polls, which put his party narrowly ahead of the Tories.

He added: "What we do is to get at the heart of people's anxieties and concerns.

"You have a Conservative-led government in Westminster which is saying 'All the problems are fixed' and yet you have got so many people saying 'That's not what is happening in my life'.

"The opportunity and responsibility of Labour is to show the difference we can make.

"If we do that I am confident we can win the next general election."

Mr Miliband also said his party would not immediately propose an in/out referendum on the European Union if it were to win the 2015 poll.

"We don't think that exiting Europe is a priority," he told reporters.

"David Cameron only made a commitment about a referendum because, frankly, he was pushed into it out of weakness, not strength.

"What matters most of all is the national interest in saying to people what is the priority.

"My priority is to tackle the everyday bread-and-butter concerns that people have... the priority is the cost-of-living crisis."

Mr Miliband was also quick to defend Welsh Labour's NHS record.

The health service is one of 20 areas devolved to the Assembly in Cardiff Bay.

Welsh Labour, which continues to maintain a universal free prescriptions policy, has come under criticism from political opponents over waiting times for diagnostic testing and ambulance response times.

He said: "The NHS right across the UK is facing challenges. And I think that Carwyn (Jones) has been the first to say that there are challenges in Wales.

"There are some areas where the Welsh NHS has done well like cancer treatment and that's widely acknowleged.

"There was also the authoritative recent Nuffield Trust report which said 'Yyou can't say that any particular part of the UK leads another in health service'.

"Carwyn is very alive and aware of those challenges."

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