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Watchdog 'uncomfortable' on Betsi Cadwaladr claims

2023-06-04 02:28:31 source:The Washington Post author:news click:228order

Wales' public spending watchdog told a senior civil servant he felt "rather uncomfortable" with a minister's comments about a north Wales NHS board.

Plaid Cymru has released a third letter from Auditor General Adrian Crompton, in a row over whether ministers misled the Senedd.

Ministers had said Mr Crompton, or his office, advised the health body should come out of special measures in 2020.

Mr Crompton has said that no such advice was given.

On Tuesday in the Senedd, Mark Drakeford again denied misleading the Welsh Parliament.

Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board was removed from special measures in late 2020, in a move that was highly criticised by opposition parties at the time.

The health board returned to the highest level of government oversight less than three years later, in February, following a damning audit report.

In November 2020 then-health minister Vaughan Gething told the Senedd "the chief exec of NHS Wales, Healthcare Inspectorate Wales and Audit Wales have given clear advice that Betsi Cadwaladr should move out of special measures".

Mr Drakeford made similar comments to Mr Gething in the debating chamber in February.

Plaid has already released letters from Mr Crompton saying that neither he or his office gave such advice, and that he had told the Welsh government in 2020 that ministers were making "unhelpful" comments.

The party released a further letter to Newyddion S4C, written in November 2020 by Mr Crompton to Andrew Goodall, who was chief executive of the Welsh NHS at the time.

Referring to Mr Gething's comments, Mr Crompton said he had been able to see the statement made by Mr Gething "we would have asked for the statement to more clearly reflect that any advice to the minister on the escalation status is provided by Welsh Government officials, informed by discussions at the tripartite round table."

"You'll probably recall that there have been several previous occasions where we have had to ask that this point is clarified in internal or external communications flowing from the tripartite process," he said.

"Those previous requests were rooted in the fact that neither myself as Auditor General, nor Audit Wales staff acting on my behalf can directly advise ministers.

"I am aware that in responding to questions on his statement during the plenary session, the minister made several reference to the independent advice he had received from the tripartite group, and I have to say that did make me feel rather uncomfortable for the reasons I have just set out."

Audit Wales and Healthcare Inspectorate Wales, are part of the 'tripartite group', that inform advice officials go on to give to ministers'.

Plaid Cymru have also released a letter to Newyddion S4C from Health Inspectorate Wales, which confirms they did not give direct advice to remove the health board from special measures.

Plaid's health spokesperson and deputy leader Rhun ap Iorwerth said: "We want to see the government putting their hands up and recognising they have said something that was not correct to the Senedd.

"They have done so more than once. They have misled the Senedd, have misled the people of Wales."

The first minister was challenged in the chamber for the first time on Tuesday about relaxing special measures om Betsi Cadwaladr board.

Plaid leader Adam cost called on Mr Drakeford to correct the record.

But the first minister said: "There was no record to correct because the minister will have acted on the basis of the system that I have set out to members this afternoon.

"Each decision, whether to do more or to do less, follows that three-stage process. I've set it out for members. I don't think I can help the member any further on that matter."

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