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The media should call out attempts to take advantage of devolution confusion

30 Apr 2018 3 minute read
BBC coverage of the Withybush protests

Ifan Morgan Jones

Health is a devolved issue in Wales. The Welsh Government is in charge of the NHS here, and has been for nearly 20 years.

This may not come as a surprise to you, but according to a survey carried out by the BBC in 2014, only 48% of the population of Wales know who is in charge of the Welsh NHS.

Who is at fault? Well, the finger could be pointed at the Welsh Government. They haven’t exactly gone out of their way to ensure that the public understands devolution.

After all, if people don’t know you run health, education and economic development, you can’t be easily blamed when these services fail to perform.

Not doing much to inform people is one thing, however, but deliberately sowing confusion is another thing entirely.

Labour did the latter over the weekend when they held a protest against Hywel Dda health board opposing the downgrading of Withybush hospital.

Hywel Dda health board is, of course, under the control of the Labour Welsh Government. The Welsh Government decides its budget, can approve or veto its plans, or take it over altogether if they so wish.

Labour was, in effect, protesting its own handling of the NHS. Despite this, the protesters had little signs saying ‘Labour: Standing up for Wales’.

It’s not a new tactic – Momentum has been campaigning in Pembrokeshire on the issue of the NHS in England.

We’ve also had the rather odd sight of Llanelli’s Assembly Member and Member of Parliament, Lee Waters and Nia Griffith, doing the same in their constituency.

They were presumably protesting fellow elected member Vaughan Gething, the Welsh Health Secretary.


This isn’t to suggest that the Welsh Government hasn’t had to deal with some difficult budget cuts because of Westminster austerity.

I’m not even saying that downgrading the hospital is the wrong idea. Difficult economic times call for difficult decisions.

But Labour has run the Welsh NHS, without a break, for almost 20 years. They can’t pass the buck both ways. The buck stops with them.

They can’t seriously protest a health board that they themselves have complete control over.

But can we so easily blame Labour? All they’re doing really is taking advantage of public ignorance about devolution.

The Welsh media also have a part to play in informing the public. So it was strange that the BBC, writing about the Withybush protest, didn’t see any reason to point out that health is devolved in a story that didn’t really make sense without that crucial piece of information.

Fair play to the Pembrokeshire Herald who did a much better job.

Surely there’s a responsibility on the few media outlets in Wales to ensure their readers understand devolution.

Particularly the BBC, as it is by far the most read and best-financed media service in the country.

We can blame London media but what little media we do have in Wales could do a much better job.

Otherwise, the next opinion poll the BBC run about public knowledge about devolution is likely to come up with very similar results.

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