Senedd Sketch: Is this the beginning of the end for Betsi Cadwaladr?
The survival of Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board in its current form was debated in First Minister’s Questions today (28 February).
Leader of the opposition, Welsh Tory Andrew RT Davies, claimed yesterday’s news that Welsh Government had put Wales’s largest health board into special measures, again, “took some people by surprise”.
In the same breath, and in the same sentence even, Mr RT Davies said, “but it wasn’t unexpected,” given the Auditor General’s report from the week before, so make of that what you will.
Mr RT Davies then wanted to know why the independent board members at Betsi had to resign.
It’s good to have Mr Drakeford back at the helm.
He said: “Well, I don’t think, myself, Llywydd, that it had come as a shock to anyone reasonably well informed about the operation of the board.”
The First Minister then proceeded to turn the thumbscrews on Mr RT Davies.
“I’m looking now at a letter sent by Janet Finch-Saunders – a member of the Leader of the Opposition’s own group, to the (Health) Minister,” said Mr Drakeford.
In her letter, Mrs Finch-Saunders, continued Mr Drakeford, “Calls for the entire removal of the board, including independent members, who are found to have been unable to deliver without interventions.
“If it was apparent to a local Conservative member that independent members needed to be removed, I find it hard to believe that it was shocking news for anybody else in the north of Wales.”
I’m unsure what the English language equivalent of wyneb twll tîn iâr is, so let’s just say that Mr RT Davies’s face resembled that of a man trying to pretend he hadn’t just been slapped around the face with a wet fish.
Back on his feet, Mr RT Davies said: “The point I am making to you is that throughout that report the executive members were held to be deficient in their work and their responsibilities … and yet every one of those executives are still in post …”
Mr Drakeford replied: “What you saw yesterday was the first set of measures that the Minister has taken. There are very real criticisms of executive members and those too will need to be attended to.
“Things have to be done in a way that respects people’s legal rights and in a way that stands up to scrutiny.
“What you saw yesterday was a starting point – there’s a good deal more to do.”
Cupped hands together, Mr RT Davies again spoke at length. He appeared to be asking whether the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board will eventually be scrapped?
The “immediate” action is, explained Mr Drakeford: “To appoint a small number of individuals to discharge the legal functions and to stabilise the organisation … and to concentrate on the appointment of a new chief executive.
“One of the things that we have learned … is that reliance on heroic individuals, the idea that a new chair or new executive officer is the answer – I think we have learned that is not a sufficient response.
“We will need something that is more fundamental than that.”
Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board was taken out of special measures in 2020, having been under direct Welsh Government intervention since 2015.
Leader of Plaid Cymru, Adam Price MS said: “Your Government’s decision to take Betsi out of special measures was a blatant attempt to pull the wool over people’s eyes.
“You wanted to give the impression that you had guided the health board through significant reform, that you had done your job.
“It was premature, it’s proved to be reckless and it demonstrated a lack of leadership.”
Unamused, Mr Drakeford went on the defence.
The word on the streets of north Wales however, and in the corridors of Ysbyty Gwynedd, Ysbyty Glan Clwyd and Wrexham Maelor Hospital, is much more concise and on point, than anything he will hear in the Senedd.
It is this: Welsh Government should never have created Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board in the first place.
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