Why are Welsh Labour politicians pretending they don’t run the NHS in Wales?

Labour MPs’ tweets

Ifan Morgan Jones

During the General Election fewer than two months ago, the Labour party hammered the Conservatives on their record on the NHS in England.

“A decade of Tory health cuts and privatisations has pushed our greatest institution to the brink,” their manifesto warned.

“Our hospitals are crumbling, equipment is outdated, IT systems are inadequate and community facilities are neglected.”

One thing was made clear – Labour were holding the Tories to account for their record on the NHS.

However, when it comes to the running of the NHS in Wales, which is fully under the control of the Labour Welsh Government, they now pretend that they have nothing to do with it.

Last week Pontypridd’s Labour MP, Alex Davies-Jones MP, took to social media to campaign to “save our A&E at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital”.

When it was rightly pointed out that she, as a Labour MP, was campaigning against a decision made by a Labour-run NHS, a Labour AM, Dawn Bowden, intervened to say that the Welsh NHS was “funded by the Welsh Labour Government” but was “managed by people who are paid to do so”.

Let’s just stop for a moment and imagine what Labour’s response would have been if the Conservatives had taken a ‘nothing to do with us, guv’ approach when question on their record of managing England’s NHS during the General Election.

Can you imagine Boris Johnson saying: ‘We only fund the NHS – it’s run by some very smart people over whom we have no control’? Labour and the press would have spoken of little else for weeks.

The truth is that the Labour Welsh Government doesn’t just ‘fund’ the NHS, of course. If what Dawn Bowden claimed was true then running the NHS could be handled by Rebecca Evans AM, the Minister for Finance.

But it’s not. The Welsh Government also has a Health Minister, Vaughan Gething, and his responsibilities (there is quite a long list) includes both “oversight” and “scrutiny” of the NHS, and indeed “all aspects of public health and health protection in Wales”.

He appoints the managers, including the Chief Executive of the NHS and also members of the Health Boards. In practice he could place the Health Board under direct Welsh Government control if he wanted to, as has already happened in the north of Wales.

I.e. he is the boss – our elected representative telling the unelected Health Boards what to do. The responsibility for the NHS lies with him, and of course the First Minister who can fire him as Health Minister.

Ultimately, then, the buck stops with the Welsh government. If they allow Royal Glamorgan A&E to close (and there are no doubt some good reasons for closing it) that is a political decision they are making. Governments have to make tough and unpopular decisions all the time.

But if they feel that the A&E should stay open there’s nothing stopping Vaughan Gething convening a meeting with the NHS Chief Executive and Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board and telling them so.

 

Brazen

There are two possibilities here of course, and both are equally scary. 1) Labour politicians are trying to deliberately mislead people about who is in charge of the NHS in Wales. 2.) Labour politicians are themselves confused about what is devolved and what isn’t.

I’m now leaning towards the former option because despite receiving an avalanche of messages on social media pointing out that Labour do run the Welsh NHS, yesterday the politicians were at it again.

A group of Labour AMs and MPs uploaded a picture of themselves holding a ‘Save Our A&E sign’ outside Royal Glamorgan Hospital.

The picture included two AMs, Huw Irranca-Davies and Mick Antoniw, who were essentially campaigning against their own co-workers at the Senedd.

It’s one of the most politically brazen things I’ve ever seen and almost Trumpian in its manipulation of people’s political ignorance.

It’s particularly disappointing as it’s a political move whose success depends entirely on voters’ confusion about who runs the health service in Wales.

According to a BBC/ICM survey in 2014, only 48% correctly identified that health was a devolved matter.

This campaign not only depends on that confusion but also seeks to entrench it. Seeing Labour politicians campaigning against an NHS run by Labour will only mislead people further, to Labour’s benefit.

To his credit, in a press conference on Monday, First Minister Mark Drakeford called for Labour politicians to stay away from the campaign.

However his reasoning that the decision was not for politicians but “for clinicians and the board to carry out” was no better than Dawn Bowden’s claim that the NHS was nothing to do with the Welsh Government.

We’ve been here before. In 2017 then-Education Minister Leighton Andrews had to resign after campaigning against the closure of a primary school in his Rhondda constituency.

First Minister Carwyn Jones told him his campaign was in direct opposition to guidance over shutting schools with surplus places issued by himself as Minister.

Mark Drakeford needs to show a similar gumption and make it clear that Labour politicians cannot actively campaign against an NHS run by their own political party. Whether he can or will do so will tell us a lot about his strength or weakness as First Minister.

And if Labour politicians want to go rogue and continue to campaign despite that, they need to make it clear that they’re ultimately campaigning against their own Labour-led Welsh Government.

Power

There is a wider danger here of course than just politicians misleading their constituents.

With an ITV/YouGov poll last night showing that 24% would vote to scrap the Assembly given the opportunity, Labour are putting devolution itself in great jeaporady.

If people don’t believe that the Welsh Government has any real control over the NHS and other public services Wales, why should they retain what they will see as a pointless layer of bureacracy?

And with the Welsh Government gone, so too would go Labour’s last remaining national electoral stronghold in the UK.

To retain devolution, Labour needs to make clear that whatever their own strengths and weaknesses, the power to deliver better public services reside within Welsh devolution.

And they need to make the case that it’s better to have the power there, than over at Westminster. Passing the buck to Westminster or the Health Boards at the first sign of trouble doesn’t do that.

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Ken Davies
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Is this not endemic in Wales? The bureaucrats run the show, and the politicians struggle to hold them to account. A councillor once told me that the officers are the experts and it was policy never to oppose them.

Huw Davies
Guest
Huw Davies

That sums it up pretty much as it is. Situation is corrupted by both politicians and bureaucrats spending most of their time covering arses rather than focussing on service delivery. Result ? – steadily accelerating decline all round, but seldom does a senior exec get fired for managing into this mess( some leave with handsome compensation, when it suits them). Accountability and professionalism have been totally abandoned and morphed into fudging the truth, spouting spin and taking as much pay and rewards as they can get their hands on. Opposition politicians may utter the odd whimper of protest but they… Read more »

John Ellis
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John Ellis

My own experience in England was that it was very much the same there too, at local government level. Councillors are part-time amateurs who volunteer to serve out of interest, or a sense of civic responsibility, or out of a yearning to be big fish in the municipal pond; in the two English metropolitan boroughs in which I lived, only the leader of the Council did it as a full-time job. And amateurs have limitations which, assuming they’ve any sense, they quickly realize. There’s the limitation of probably knowing very little about the specifics of the actual topic with which… Read more »

A Prophecy is Buried in Eglwyseg
Guest
A Prophecy is Buried in Eglwyseg

Labour protesting itself is but a taste. In the end if you keep on with no end Labour or Tory…

We will be bombed by our own governments and told it is an enemy within. This is the future since you were happy to let others think for you for 5 generation to enjoy luxury. Do you want your smartphone more than your freedom?

Jonesy
Guest
Jonesy

A few weeks back I heard the Honourable Member for Torfaen on the Westminster Hour- the programme on a late Sunday evening, Radio 4 really worth a listen . And if you know anybody who lives in Torfaen pass it on to them so that they can have a good listen to how their rep in Westminster fights their corner (sic) – Given the opportunity by the presenter on a silver platter to challenge the Tories on the lack of infrastructure in Wales, bent over backwards to support their ludicrous plans as they would be so good for Wales
https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000df9w

Anthony Mitchell
Guest
Anthony Mitchell

Hahahaha, don’t vote Labour in assembly elections, simple really.

J.D
Guest
J.D

Nothing new here, labour councilors in Pontypridd traditionally canvass against RCT on the doorstep only to vote with the party when elected.

John Ellis
Guest
John Ellis

One of the tensions inherent to party politics is the probability that at some point during a government’s term of office, a government party parliamentarian will encounter a situation in which numbers of the constituents who voted him or her in will have critical views on some local issue where they think government ought to act – or perhaps act differently from the way it actually has been acting. And I don’t see any reason why a parliamentarian who isn’t serving in government and so isn’t bound by collective responsibility shouldn’t take the side of the said constituents if that… Read more »

CapM
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CapM

“And I don’t see any reason why a parliamentarian who isn’t serving in government and so isn’t bound by collective responsibility shouldn’t take the side of the said constituents oin the discussion…”

I think you’ve missed the point. By protesting against the local GIG Trust they’re misleading the public into thinking that the Labour Government lacks the power to intervene and settle the issue. In effect creating the myth that the Labour Government is not responsible for any closure and therefore the closure isn’t a reason not to vote Labour in the next election .

John Ellis
Guest
John Ellis

The reality is that strategic management decisions lie – and ought to lie – with the health boards themselves. Why should anyone want pig-ignorant politicians with their eyes focused on maximizing their own advantage when the next election comes around having the last word? And, speaking personally, I’d like to see Labour voted out of office here in Wales, simply on the grounds that over twenty years in office breeds complacency, arrogance and a sense of entitlement. But, while I can see that politicians can hardly ignore the gut responses of their constituents, I’m nonetheless convinced that they shouldn’t ultimately… Read more »

CapM
Guest
CapM

Health is devolved and the buck stops with the Welsh Government. If local Labour AMs and MPs think the Health Board is making a seriously bad decision then they can go over the head of the Health Board and direct their protest at the Labour Minister for health,/the Labour first Minister/the Labour government. The Labour politicians concerned seem to be avoiding letting their constituents know this is the case. ” I’m nonetheless convinced that they [politicians] shouldn’t ultimately be able to call the shots on clinical issues.” Health Boards making serious mistakes is not unheard of. The problems at Betsi… Read more »

Walter Hunt
Guest
Walter Hunt

Spin doctors got their P45s when it found that sufficiently large sections of the electorate, predisposed by exposure to the virtual world’s cornucopia of alternative facts, would swallow bare-faced lies.

Unlike most professions, and despite its importance to all of us, no qualifications are needed to be a politician. Therefore we should not underestimate ignorance, be shocked by incompetence, surprised by poor governance or taken aback when we see “Yes Minister” for real.

Michael
Guest
Michael

Welsh government manage the NHS right down to a micro or individual level by way of the Healthcare Inspectorate Wales.

Robert Davies
Guest
Robert Davies

To quote the above “Ultimately, then, the buck stops with the Welsh government. If they allow Royal Glamorgan A&E to close (and there are no doubt some good reasons for closing it)” There are no good reasons to close it and its disingenuous to suggest there are.

Dr Dewi Evans
Guest
Dr Dewi Evans

One of the reasons Labour gets away with its poor performance running NHS Wales is because Plaid Cymru’s Assembly members rarely if ever engage in effective opposition to Labour’s hopeless direction. Taking Welsh Labour to task on NHS matters was non-existent under Leanne Wood’s leadership. There has been some effective criticism since Adam Price has become Leader, including a feisty, long overdue, charge of no confidence in Vaughan Gething led by the indomitable Helen Mary Jones. As someone who spent over 40 years in the NHS, and even longer with Plaid Cymru I’m certain that Plaid, and its new Health… Read more »

Jonathon Gammond
Guest
Jonathon Gammond

Surely everyone knows how the responsibilities are divided: Successes belong to whichever layer of government wishes to take the credit; failures are the responsibility of someone else. It is true at all levels.

Lord Muck
Guest
Lord Muck

Isn’t it true that the WAG receive most of their funding from Westminster? Notwithstanding the Barnett formula, Wales’ slice of the pie decreases when Westminster decreases its funding because of, say, austerity. Therefore, to rest the blame entirely at the feet of the WAG is disingenuous.

Alan
Guest
Alan

This is an excellent article and correctly touches on the fence that Welsh Labour in the Sennedd sit on. They blame national government for not adequately devolving funds for them to pass on to the NHS in Wales. And they wash their hands of accountability for managing the NHS in wales with the significant taxpayer fund that is devolved. After the peoples vote in 2016 we have legally left the EU after 47 years. The SNP are clamouring for a second peoples vote in Scotland after the first decided to stay in the UK for a generation. Mark Drakeford said… Read more »

Rhosddu
Guest
Rhosddu

When you say “national government”, I presume you mean UK government, Alan.

John Ellis
Guest
John Ellis

Doi you seriously think that the Bunterites in Westminster should be entrusted with the 100% governance of a Wales which, even after December 12th last, still hasn’t given them a mandate by a majority? For sure they’ve boosted their vote, but it’s still way short of a majority nationwide.

Dafyd
Guest
Dafyd

If the political injustice of the EU was that the UK would be managed by politicians other countries voted for then why should Cymru tolerate a government voted for by England? By all means lets have a referendum on the Assembly, and another on independece, but I hope you won’t be offended if I suggest that foreigners should not be permitted to take part in them.