Senedd sketch: psychodramas and pointing at tetchy FMQ’s
First Minister’s Questions yesterday (24 January) was not Mark Drakeford’s finest hour.
Not only did he accuse Plaid Cymru Leader Adam Price of having a “psychodrama solution” to the NHS crisis. Mr Drakeford also suggested that a Senedd Member, who had spoken of problems facing disabled people who travel by rail, would want to “congratulate” Transport for Wales for not closing ticket offices.
Joel James MS for South Wales Central asked Mr Drakeford to make a statement, “on the accessibility of public transport for those who are visually impaired”.
He spoke about the experiences and challenges some disabled people face when using public transport, which, “still falls woefully short of the standards that we expect and they deserve,” he said.
Stating that he “regularly receives complaints from residents” about this, Mr Joel described one visually impaired lady’s recent journey by rail from the Valleys to Cardiff and onwards.
Mr Joel said: “There was no assistance available when boarding or departing any of the trains, which was terrifying because of the large gap between the train and the platform.”
He said there was, “no help whatsoever in trying to get through the ticket barriers, which caused considerable panic …”
On and on went this sad story, before Mr Joel finally came to ask his question of the First Minister: “What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the problems (disabled people) are experiencing when using rail services in Wales? And what assurances can you give that assistance will be made available …?”
Mr Drakeford said; “It’s never good to hear of the sort of experience that he has set out.”
He then spoke at length about a “recent meeting” (last November) of the Ministerial Disability Forum chaired by his colleague, Jane Hutt.
The meeting, continued Mr Drakeford, included “a good representation of people who are themselves visually impaired …”
During said meeting, there was, “a very full and frank exchange of views …” said Mr Drakeford, before ending with the clincher: “I’m sure, given the account that Joel James read out, he will want to congratulate Transport for Wales on its decision not to close ticket offices in Wales as has been announced for every station in England.”
Seriously – is that where we’re at now First Minister? Senedd Members and disabled people, like myself, should be grateful for crumbs such as not closing ticket offices in train stations even though some journeys can resemble a living nightmare?
Next up, questions without prior notice from party leaders. As Leader of the Opposition, Welsh Tory Andrew RT Davies gets first dibs.
Last week, Mr RT Davies said he’d been reading “board papers by the Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board”.
According to Mr RT Davies, the papers “highlighted the poor fabric of buildings … Only 62% of the Betsi Cadwaladr estate meets that operational safe caveat …”
But the situation is far worse at the Abergele Hospital than anywhere else in north Wales.
“85% of the estate of Abergele hospital is deemed operationally unsafe and does not meet the requirements of the health and safety regulations that any other place would have to meet,” said Mr RT Davies.
“Will you apologise to the staff that have to work in the environment I’ve described to you, and when will we see an improvement?”
Mr Drakeford was not amused, “The capital budget available to the Welsh Government go down every year … Where does the member think the money comes from?
“These are not the decisions of the Welsh Government – they are the decision of the government he supports. I’ll explain it slowly again so he can think about it – and I would prefer it if he didn’t point at me from where he is sitting. I’m going to try again because he doesn’t listen. Our capital budget …”
Leader of Plaid Cymru Adam Price was next: “For one week will he stop blaming others, take some responsibility and admit that on his watch the NHS is in crisis …”
Mr Drakeford proceeded to reel off all the different waiting times in the health service which had fallen, and continue to fall, up to last November.
Mr Drakeford the added: “You want to describe a service which has succeeded in every one of those things as a crisis,” before turning to the Llywydd and other Senedd Members:
“If he wants to describe it as a crisis and thinks that somehow a psychodrama solution is what the health service needs, it’s not the view I would take on it.”
From somewhere came a “Waw!”
Mr Price got on his feet: “I am afraid that is beneath the First Minister to be honest with you.”
Plaid Cymru had been listening to NHS workers on the picket lines who shared their stories of burnout and crying on the wards.
“The state of denial we’ve just heard from the First Minister reflects your complete misunderstanding and disconnection that we see on the ground …” said Mr Price, before sticking in a few extra “crises” for good measure.
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