Health Minister accused of trying to ‘hoodwink’ North Wales public after Betsi Cadwaladr’s removal from special measures
The Welsh Health Minister has been accused of trying to “hoodwink” people in North Wales after removing the region’s health board from special measures.
Vaughan Gething announced this afternoon that the escalation status of Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board had been downgraded to targeted intervention “with immediate effect”.
He said the decision had been taken due to the amount of progress made by the board in recent years, as well as the difficulty special measures status was causing in terms of recruitment.
Betsi Cadwaladr was originally placed under the highest level of monitoring by the Welsh Government in June 2015 after a report found “institutional abuse” at the Tawel Fan mental health ward at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd.
Since then, it has undergone a number of personnel changes at a senior level, with another new chief executive due to start in the new year.
Opposition groups have consistently accused the government of failing to make an impact, with increased waiting times and concerns remaining over mental health services.
Welsh Conservative MS Darren Millar, who represents Clwyd West, condemned the move to pull the health board out of special measures.
Speaking at a plenary session held in the Senedd this afternoon, he said: “The reality is that today’s announcement appears to have more to do with the prospects of the Labour Party in north Wales at next year’s Senedd elections than it does with any evidence of real improvement on the ground in north Wales.
“Your decision to remove special measures cannot be justified, and you cannot fool or hoodwink the people of north Wales into thinking that everything is hunky-dory.
“Your description of improvement bears absolutely no resemblance to the reality of patient experiences across the region.
“Let’s look at the facts. The Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board was in its sixth year of special measures.
“In that time, it’s had a revolving door in terms of its senior leadership team, with a number of chief executives, a number of finance directors, and a number of directors of mental health.
“In fact, the current director of mental health departs his role at the end of this month, another notch on Betsi’s bedpost.
“Since 2015, A&E performance has gotten worse, waiting lists and waiting times have deteriorated and gotten longer, and the financial position of the health board has also deteriorated.”
Mr Gething described his response as “predictably unreasonable” and said the decision was based on advice from the chief executive of NHS Wales, together with Welsh Government officials, Healthcare Inspectorate Wales, and Audit Wales.
He said the suggestion it was based on party politics was “a slur on their integrity” and called for him to withdraw his remarks.
The Health Minister added the targeted intervention status was “not a free pass”, with further improvements required from the health board.
Despite praising the progress made by Betsi Cadwaladr, Ynys Mon MS Rhun ap Iorwerth reiterated Plaid Cymru’s call for it to be disbanded and new organisations put in its place.
He said: “On one level, I’m pleased to see a moving forward, from special measures, to another level of intervention.
“But I’m still of the opinion, as are many patients and staff members within Betsi Cadwaladr, that the north of Wales needs a fresh start.
“It has taken too long to get to this point, and there is very little faith in how we are going to get to the next point, where we can really say that we have a health service that is designed in a way that staff and patients deserve.
“We need new health boards for the north of Wales—a fresh start—and today does not convince me the Welsh Government has a handle on the real problems, not least mental health, which was at the root of putting the board in special measures in the first place.”
In response, Mr Gething thanked him for highlighting the “very positive and impressive” work of health staff in North Wales during the coronavirus pandemic.
However, he said he did not agree that a reorganisation process was required in the region.
He said: “I recognise that the member has a clear view, that he has set out on more than one occasion, that he believes a reorganisation with more than one health board in north Wales will provide a better future.
“That is not a view I share. I think the loss of focus, the money you’d spend, and the upheaval would have a real cost within it.
“You’d then have to remake all those partner arrangements that have definitely moved forward over the last few months and the last few years.
“This is an undeniably positive step forward for all the staff of the health board and indeed for every community in north Wales that is served by Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board.”
Meanwhile, the health board has welcomed news of its change in intervention status this afternoon.
Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board Chairman Mark Polin and Acting Chief Executive Gill Harris said in a joint statement: “We are encouraged by the growing confidence in our plans to make strategic longer term improvements while acknowledging that there is much more to do.
“The package of support recently announced by Welsh Government will help us to build on work to develop transformational and sustainable solutions to long term challenges in unscheduled care, diagnostics, planned care and mental health services.
“We are confident that our ambitious plans for the future will improve patient experience and waiting times.
“These include the establishment of Diagnostic and Treatment Centres and driving forward the business case for a North Wales Medical and Health Science School.
“We are hugely proud that colleagues across the organisation have risen to the challenge of COVID-19 and have displayed positivity, resilience and a commitment to patients in the most difficult of circumstances.
“We thank them for everything they have done to care for patients and keep our communities safe.
“There is a lot more work ahead but we are confident that with the support of our staff, partners, and public, the much-needed transformation of health services across North Wales will be achieved.”
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