Betsi Cadwaladr health board boss to leave his job

Gary Doherty

The chief executive of an under-fire health board will leave his job later this month.

Gary Doherty will leave Betsi Cadwaladr health board to become director of integration at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

The health board went into special measures in June 2015 and Mr Doherty started working there in February 2016.

Simon Dean, NHS Wales deputy chief executive, will cover as interim chief executive until a replacement is found.

Mr Doherty, who joined after being chief executive at Blackpool Victoria Hospital and with a 20-year NHS career, was placed in charge of Betsi Cadwaladr in the immediate aftermath of the health board being put into special measures.

Betsi Cadwaladr's chairman Mark Polin said the health board recognised "we need to accelerate the pace of change and it is now time for someone else to lead the next phase of our journey of improvement".

Mr Doherty had heavy in-tray when he arrived - including a catalogue of concerns ranging from failings in mental healthcare, maternity care, out of hours GP cover and serious management issues.

He took charge at a time when the health board was considered to have lost the trust of the population, but said he was convinced he could put the organisation back on track.

During first minister's questions in the Senedd on Tuesday, Mark Drakeford said the Welsh Government was "disappointed" the health board "hasn't been able to make all the progress we wanted to see made this year".

An ongoing headache

One year into the job, he seemed optimistic about progress - to the extent that special measures might be lifted by the end of 2017.

Yet by the middle of 2018, the health minister expressed his frustration at the situation at Betsi Cadwaladr - in particular the deterioration in the health board's finances, coupled with growing waiting lists.

During his tenure, Mr Doherty had to deal with various problems:

  • Ongoing anger over the Tawel Fan crisis including numerous reviews and reports in the now-closed mental health unit at Glan Clwyd Hospital
  • Overseeing the centralisation of specialist vascular services in Glan Clwyd - which was particularly unpopular in north west Wales
  • Threats that nurses might go on strike over plans to make break times standardised across the organisation
  • He arguably had much less autonomy than many other health bosses as the health board was under the highest level of Welsh Government oversight

On top of this, there is the ongoing concern the health board is just too big and too varied in terms of the need of its communities - covering six counties, a budget of £1.3bn and a workforce of 16,500.

The fact it remains in special measures five years on and despite Mr Doherty's efforts might well give some credence to that claim.

What is clear is the health board remains an ongoing headache for the health minister and officials in Cardiff Bay.

Clwyd West Conservative AM Darren Millar said the health board "has seen record poor performance in recent months and it will require strong leadership with a robust accountability system to put that right".

Plaid Cymru AM for North Wales Llyr Gruffydd said Mr Doherty's departure was "the right decision" and the health board should have seen "greater improvement in his four years in charge".

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