Welsh Labour’s first leadership hustings event denounced as ‘farcical’
The first Welsh Labour leadership election hustings event has been denounced as a farce after rivals Vaughan Gething and Jeremy Miles weren’t asked anything about the state of the NHS or the local Betsi Cadwaladr health board, which has been mired in controversy for years.
An official series of such meetings is being organised for party members by Welsh Labour in the run up to the issuing of ballot papers on February 16. Sunday’s meeting, at Theatr Clwyd in Mold, was the only hustings event in the series due to be held in north Wales.
A party member who was present said: “It’s farcical that the candidates weren’t asked about the NHS, which accounts for 50% of the Welsh Government’s budget, or about Betsi Cadwaladr, which has been managed appallingly, and which was initially put into special measures in 2015, before Vaughan Gething became Health Minister, and is in special measures now.
“Welsh Labour officials screened the questions. It’s inconceivable that members didn’t want to hear what the candidates had to say about the running of the health service. It’s completely ridiculous that the NHS with all its problems didn’t feature among the topics chosen – even more so when one of the candidates is a former Health Minister. It gives the impression that the party just wants to sweep the problems under the carpet and pretend they don’t exist.”
A Plaid Cymru source said: “It’s astonishing that the two men in line to be First Minister weren’t asked about the NHS and, given that the hustings were in north Wales, Betsi Cadwaladr. Talk about ignoring the elephant in the room!”
An electronic form was distributed to Labour members across Wales, inviting them to submit questions electronically for the leadership candidates. A note on the form states: “A submission of a question on this form does not guarantee it will be asked at a hustings event. Ahead of each hustings a selection of questions will be made in line with guidance from the Procedures Committee.”
Further hustings events will be held in Cardiff on February 8, Swansea on February 11, online on February 15 and in Newtown on February 18 – the final one after ballot papers have been issued. The result of the election is due to be announced on March 16.
In 2015 Betsi Cadwaladr was put into special measures by the Welsh Government’s then Health Minister Mark Drakeford, after “institutional abuse” of patients on a mental health ward.
Despite continuing concerns, Mr Drakeford’s replacement as Health Minister Vaughan Gething decided in November 2020 to “de-escalate” the health board from special measures.
Instead it was placed in Targeted Intervention (TI) in November 2020 in the areas of mental health (adult and children); strategy, planning and performance; leadership (including governance, transformation and culture) and engagement (patients, public, staff and partners).
In May 2022, following patient safety, governance and assurance issues highlighted through a number of serious incidents and inspections, a decision was made to widen the board’s TI status to include Ysbyty Glan Clwyd – patient safety, governance, leadership, operational oversight, clinical safety governance including record keeping, incident management, team working, reporting concerns, and consent; Vascular Services; and the Emergency Department at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd.
In February 2023, the current Health Minister Eluned Morgan decided to return Betsi Cadwaladr to special measures. A statement was issued at the time saying: “This significant decision followed the tripartite group of Healthcare Inspectorate Wales, Audit Wales and Welsh Government officials’ meetings in November 2022 and January 2023 to specifically discuss concerns about the service delivery, quality and safety of care and organisational effectiveness at Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board.
“The escalation to special measures reflects serious and outstanding concerns about board effectiveness, organisational culture, service quality and reconfiguration, governance, patient safety, operational delivery, leadership and financial management. The chair, vice chair and independent members of the Board agreed to step aside, and a number of direct appointments have been made to ensure board stability over the coming 12 months.”
In April 2023, following pressure from Plaid Cymru for the First Minister to correct misleading statements made in the Senedd about the reasons for taking Betsi Cadwaladr out of special measures in November 2020, updates were made to historic transcript records in three separate places.
Footnotes were inserted next to statements made by Mr Gething and Mr Drakeford, in which they claimed that the decision to take the health board out of special measures was due to “advice” received from Adrian Crompton, the Auditor General for Wales.
However, Mr Crompton issued a statement in which he said: “Whether there was advice from me or my staff to the Minister to de-escalate the health board from special measures at that time, I can be very clear, there was not.”
The footnotes link to letters written by the First Minister to Presiding Officer Elin Jones in which he clarifies that “Audit Wales did not – and does not – advise Ministers directly on these matters.”
The climbdown by Mr Gething and Mr Drakeford was described as “humiliating” by Plaid Cymru’s current leader Rhun ap Iorwerth, then the party’s health spokesman, who said at the time: “Caught in the middle of this Labour mismanagement are the patients waiting record amounts of time for treatment, and our health and care workers who are demoralised, exhausted and struggling to make ends meet.
“This whole sorry saga adds weight to the question over Labour’s credibility in terms of running the health board – the people of the north of Wales deserve better from their government.”
In May 2023 a damning report by accountancy firm Ernst Young found that senior members of Betsi Cadwaladr’s finance team deliberately misrepresented the organisation’s accounts.
Welsh Labour was invited to comment but has not done so.
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