Welsh government reshuffle: Mark Drakeford new health minister

media captionMark Drakeford AM replaces Lesley Griffiths in charge of health

Wales' First Minister Carwyn Jones has appointed a new health minister in a reshuffle of his Labour cabinet.

Mark Drakeford replaces Lesley Griffiths as the Welsh government's health minister, it was announced on Thursday.

In turn she takes over as local government minister from Carl Sargeant.

Mr Jones said the economy remained his administration's top priority, but opponents called for a change in policy on the NHS.

The first minister kept three of his most high-profile ministers in their jobs: Leighton Andrews stays at education, Edwina Hart keeps the economy brief and Jane Hutt continues as finance minister.

No-one was dropped from the cabinet and apart from Mr Drakeford the only other promotion to the top table was Alun Davies - the new minister for natural resources and food who was previously the deputy minister for agriculture.

Huw Lewis becomes the minister for communities and tackling poverty. His old role as housing and regeneration minister goes to Mr Sargeant.

Mr Lewis' new portfolio had been created as part of a commitment to improve the lives of the least well off, the first minister said.

John Griffiths moves from environment to culture and sport.

'Work tirelessly'

Mr Jones said: "Jobs and growing the Welsh economy remain our number one priority, but we will also work tirelessly to improve the delivery of our public services.

"My commitment to do everything we can to stand up for the people of Wales, particularly in these challenging times, remains firm."

He added: "I am delighted to have such a strong and committed team who share my vision of a strong and vibrant Wales, where everyone has the opportunity for fulfil their potential."

Labour won power at the last assembly election in May 2011, although it fell one seat short of an outright majority.

The Welsh government used its Twitter account to break the news that a surprise reshuffle was under way on Thursday afternoon.

Mr Drakeford's promotion was the first appointment to be announced.

It comes at a time when the NHS in Wales is planning potentially controversial changes to re-organise hospital services.

The health portfolio is one of the biggest jobs in the cabinet with a departmental budget of almost £6bn.

Mr Drakeford, elected Labour AM for Cardiff West in 2011, was previously chairman of the assembly's cross-party health and social care committee.

A professor of social policy at Cardiff University, he was an adviser to former First Minister Rhodri Morgan, who he succeeded in Cardiff West.

Neath AM Gwenda Thomas will stay on as the deputy minister for social services.

Mrs Hart, the AM for Gower, will be the minister for economy, science and transport - inheriting responsibility for transport from Mr Sargeant.

Rhondda AM Mr Andrews will be able to press on with a series of reforms he has started in education.

He said he was "delighted" and that "there's a lot of work to carry on doing".

Asked if the education sector would welcome him, he joked: "Bad luck I'm back."

And Vale of Glamorgan AM Ms Hutt, who has been in the cabinet since the outset of devolution in 1999, retains a key role as the finance minister.

'Turning point'

Ogmore AM Janice Gregory keeps her place as the government's chief whip.

image captionCarwyn Jones: "We will work tirelessly to improve delivery of services"

The Conservatives' assembly leader, Andrew RT Davies, said: "This could be a turning point for the Welsh NHS if the new health minister is willing to make an honest assessment of his predecessor's failings and correct them at the earliest possible opportunity."

Plaid Cymru AM Lindsay Whittle said: "It's all very well moving politicians, but it's the policies that you really have to reconsider and there is no evidence that there is going to be a reconsideration of the policies of (hospital) reconfiguration. That's what the people of Wales want."

Liberal Democrat AM Peter Black said: "Wales deserves better. Sadly today's announcement is just the same old faces with the same old failing policies."

The British Medical Association (BMA) welcomed Mr Drakeford's appointment, as did the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), saying it came at a "very challenging time" for the NHS.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said the government should use the reshuffle to renew its emphasis on the economy.

FSB Welsh policy unit chair Janet Jones said: "It's clear, based on the historic performance of the economy that we need decisive action and clear direction."

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