Health minister denies trying to place ‘gagging order’ on north Wales health board critics
Liam Randall, local democracy reporter
Wales’ health minister has denied trying to place a “gagging order” on critics of the health board for the north of Wales.
The accusation against Eluned Morgan was made after she cautioned Senedd members to choose their words carefully when discussing the performance of Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board.
Speaking in the Welsh Parliament on Wednesday (11 May, 2022), she claimed negative comments were making it more difficult to recruit NHS staff in the region.
It followed several politicians highlighting the extent of waiting times at the three main hospitals in the area.
The health minister responded by stating she was giving “lots of attention” to healthcare in north Wales.
However, Ms Morgan told members that constant negativity about the health board was adding to issues in the region.
She said: “I can assure you that I’ve been to the north Wales health board more than any other health board, but can we start to talk up what’s good about north Wales as well?
“I think it’s really important we’re really careful about talking down Betsi all the time because, frankly, it’s making it more difficult to attract and recruit people.
“Can we please be sensitive in the way we talk about it?
“Of course you can hold me to account, of course we need to hold the health board to account, but just understand that there is a consequence to this constant criticism.”
Conservative MS for Clwyd West Darren Millar said he agreed that NHS workers deserved praise.
But he said it was also important to scrutinise the health board’s performance and accused Ms Morgan of trying to silence its critics.
He said: “We have to have honest discussions, and that means calling out when the health board is failing.
“We adore the hard-working staff in our NHS in north Wales. We’re constantly praising them.
“But you can’t expect us to have a gagging order from you about not calling out bad practice.”
Ms Morgan denied trying to stifle debate on the health board’s performance.
She said: “I was very careful in what I said then. I can assure you there is no gagging order from me.”
Aberconwy MS Janet Finch-Saunders was also among those who spoke out on the issue of waiting times during the debate.
She said the problem had been caused by the government’s poor management of the NHS, rather than the Covid-19 pandemic.
She said: “Those were issues already present within the Welsh NHS under the remit of this Welsh Labour Government.
“As of January 2020, 12,428 treatment pathways were waiting over 36 weeks for treatment in north Wales.
“That already horrific figure has now reached 58,988 in February 2022.
“Clearly, the staggering worsening delays we are encountering in the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board form part of over a decade of decline and over-centralisation in three major hospitals—Ysbyty Maelor Wrecsam, Glan Clwyd and Gwynedd.”
Ms Morgan said £1 billion was being invested in an attempt to clear the treatment backlog across Wales.
She also insisted that the pandemic was the main cause behind the rise in patients on waiting lists.
The minister said: “I know, through meeting our dedicated NHS staff, that despite what they’ve gone through over the past two years, they are up for the challenge.
“I’ve spoken to surgeons and anaesthetists who’ve told me of their frustrations in not being able to operate at the rates that they need to for their patients.
“It is absolutely clear that the pandemic has had a massive impact on our health and care services.
“It’s stretched the NHS to its limit and, prior to the pandemic, in 2019, we had no more than 9,000 people waiting for 36 weeks for treatment.”
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