Betsi: gamble or opportunity?

So with eleven months to go until the assembly election, the Welsh government has taken much greater control of the biggest health board in Wales.

In one fell swoop, the state of the NHS just became an even bigger political issue than it was already shaping up to be.

Is it a huge gamble or an opportunity for ministers to try to change the narrative of problems in health services across north Wales?

Behind the scenes, it's been stressed to me that the special measures are not a direct result of the scandal at the Tawel Fan mental health ward.

Instead, that was one of a number of problems that contributed to a loss of public confidence in the board.


Whatever the reason, this changes the nature of the debate.

Up until this point, the blame for failures could at least have been shared between ministers and local health managers.

That division no longer exists.

The flip side is that this is simply the right thing to do, regardless of political calculations, and will be portrayed as such by the Welsh government keen to show it's taking charge of matters.

I'm saying this with the benefit of hindsight but the urgent debate at the Senedd last week appeared to be a turning point with all of the opposition parties, and the local Labour assembly member, Ann Jones, calling for further intervention.


Nothing like this has happened in recent years in the Welsh NHS, but it has been happening in England. Health trusts in Cumbria, Devon and Essex were all taken into special measures last week by a department of health that had lost patience.

The reality is that the political impact in Wales will be down to the most important outcome of the lot which is whether it leads to an improvement in services.

As one colleague jokingly said to me, the Welsh government will now be able to lobby itself to provide more funding to Betsi Cadwaladr.

Joking aside, we'll find out over the next few days about what is going to change in the health board, and what kind of impact it will have on patients.