Revelations on testing lead to more questions than answers - Rhun ap Iorwerth MS
Revelations about the Welsh Government's approach to testing for Coronavirus has raised more questions than answers argues Shadow Health Minister, Rhun ap Iorwerth MS.
Subject Committees are in many ways the backbone of the Senedd’s work. They provide space for inquiry, a platform for scrutiny. But as with much at the business end of politics, that doesn’t always translate to compelling viewing. Today’s Senedd Health Committee certainly was. Like a TV drama finale, dramatic revelation followed shocking truths.
First up, I wanted to know what role Public Health Wales had in setting the targets published by Welsh Government on March 21st to hit 9000 tests a day by the end of April. We’re still regularly hitting fewer than 1000 tests a day. Straightforward question, really.
PHW’s Chief Executive wouldn’t commit to an answer, so pushing further, she admitted to me that she wasn’t aware of the 9000 target. Really?! On committees, cross-party working are the norm. The Conservative member said she was “shocked” at the answer I had been given.
So was I - the 9000 tests a day has been a staple of Covid-19 scrutiny of Welsh Government’s performance for weeks, as I and others have been trying to gauge “Is Wales on track?”.
Incidentally, it was a target I welcomed. Except later today we were told by the Chief Executive of the Welsh NHS that it wasn’t a target, but rather an ‘intention’. Answers on a postcard if you can tell me the difference.
I then went on to probe the question of why was the target/intention so woefully missed. Let’s see if we can learn more about the apparent loss of tests by pharmaceutical company Roche.
Was it PHW’s understanding that Roche was to deliver 5000 tests per day to Wales but that this deal was undone when UK Government or one of its agencies stepped in? That’s been the suggestion in recent weeks. Could we get it confirmed, I wonder?
The answer.... yes. Wow. This is significant.
We then turn to the care sector and powerful evidence from Care Forum Wales, about its difficulty in being heard by Welsh Government when it rang loud alarm bells about the vulnerability of the care sector as early as February.
Following the Roche revelation earlier, I ventured another question on the effectiveness of the ‘four nations’ approach we’ve heard so much. (We have to work together, across these island – absolutely! But it has to be on the basis of fairness.) This time I was told that Public Health England telling suppliers not to sell some PPE kit to Wales had caused big problems.
So a Health Committee session that proved the value of scrutiny and inquisition. And which raised serious questions.
On the 9000 tests, I’m still scratching my head. How could the boss of Public Health Wales not know about a target that the First Minister himself said her organisation were “aiming to have the capacity to deliver”?
And on the gazumped tests - this was a deal negotiated for the benefit of the Welsh public, and Labour Ministers should be jumping up and down with indignation. This is not the time to kowtow to Westminster.