Rhun ap Iorwerth explains why he declared ‘no confidence’ in the Health Minister

This article was published in Wales Online 06/04/2023


Playing politics? The future of the NHS is no game.

Why I declared ‘no confidence’ in the Health Minister.

Rhun ap Iorwerth MS is Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson for health and social care and writes about the need for a new start for healthcare in Wales

It’s no small thing to ask a Minister to step down or to be dismissed. But, having seriously considered the issue, that’s what I and Plaid Cymru did.

I’m not talking about the stunt pulled by the Welsh Conservatives the other week in the Senedd – to use their debate time to call for a vote of no confidence in the Health Minister Eluned Morgan. That was almost a full month after Plaid Cymru first became convinced that the time had come for a new start in leadership on health.

The catalogue of failings in the NHS under this government’s watch were already extensive: the worst waiting times ever, the stubborn failure to change tack when it’s been obvious that efforts to cut those waiting times weren’t going to succeed, the crisis of ambulance waits, staff shortages, attitudes towards those taking industrial action, the mess that is the dental service. I could go on.

But it was the Health Minister’s handling of Betsi Cadwaladr at the end of February that was the straw the broke the proverbial camel’s back for us.

The Health Minister had repeatedly refused our calls to allow a fresh start by restructuring health in the north. Next, she refused an inquiry into all the things that have gone wrong – despite the fact that, under her watch, the board had to be put back in special measures just two years after it was taken out.

Our point at the time was, if the Health Minister is unwilling to learn lessons, then why should anyone have confidence in her ability to fix things?

That’s why, at the time, we called for her to consider her position, or the First Minister to remove her.

These calls were not taken lightly by us.

They were, however – like the calls for a restructure, and a call for an inquiry – ignored.

It was clear that a Senedd vote of no confidence would not work, because Labour would win the vote – which they did.

Of greater importance was to keep on emphasising what it is that we’re fighting for.

To me, it’s about accountability. We need to know that we have a government - that we have Ministers - who are accountable.

To serve in Government is an honour, an enormous responsibility and no doubt it’s a difficult job too. But there can be no ducking of responsibility because it’s a difficult job. Admitting when you’re getting it wrong is an important part of that process of seeking accountability.

To turn back to Betsi Cadwaladr: damning report after damning report detailing wrong treatment being given – even amputation, patients dying when they shouldn’t, and to top it off, £122 million going missing!

Questions about the board’s structures and leadership had damaged this health board for so many years with most of its time in existence having been in some level of Government intervention – yet the Health Minister said it ‘wasn’t her job’ to have a grasp on things.

Turning to the words of the former Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board Mark Polin, who wrote for the Daily Post, detailing exactly what was at stake: “By any measure,” he says, “patients across Wales, and in particular north Wales, are being placed at risk by an NHS system which is badly misfiring and arguably broken.”

On that key issue of accountability, Mr Polin referred specifically to a statement by the Health Minister on the day that Betsi Cadwaladr was placed back into special measures, saying “the health Minister engaged in what can only be described as an exercise in attempting to distance herself, her government and her officials from any responsibility for seemingly anything to do with improving healthcare across Wales and particularly here in the north.”

For me, that cuts to the heart of the matter.

This is a Minister and a Government that may well believe they have a vision for the future of the NHS in Wales, but if they do it’s by now a hopelessly blurred vision, neutered by the constant firefighting, devoid of new ideas to see it through.

Poor decisions have been made, and we need better ones!

But as I say, taking responsibility for the things that haven’t gone well – on the watch of the Health Minister - must be the first steps to turning things around.

Finally, Mark Polin said that we are long past the point whereby patients and their families are entitled to expect a public inquiry or some other fundamental, independent review to be conducted.

I do not believe it’s impossible for us in Wales to run public services better than we currently do. I do not think it’s impossible for us to put together a vision and to deliver on that vision in a way that delivers better healthcare than we currently see being delivered here in Wales today, despite all the best efforts of our health and care workers.

The Health Minister brushed aside my calls for an inquiry. In being so unwilling to learn lessons, it makes it too easy to draw the conclusion that this Government is doing all it can to avoid scrutiny.

That has to change.