Wales politics

NHS boss takes charge at Betsi Cadwaladr health board

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Media captionMark Drakeford says the aim is to 'stabilise and strengthen' the running of the NHS in north Wales

The deputy chief executive of the Welsh NHS is to take charge of a health board which suspended its chief executive after being placed in special measures.

Health Minister Mark Drakeford said Simon Dean would be asked to take over as the "accountable officer" at the Betsi Cadwaladr board in north Wales.

Earlier, the board called Prof Trevor Purt's suspension a "neutral act".

Other senior figures will also give the board expert advice to ensure "longer-term leadership", the minister said.

'Strengthen and stabilise'

A report found "institutional abuse" at the Tawel Fan mental health ward in Glan Clwyd Hospital, Denbighshire.

It said the unit, which was closed in 2013, treated some patients like animals in a zoo.

But Mr Drakeford said the intervention followed longstanding concerns about governance and leadership at the health board.

Image caption Prof Trevor Purt had apologised on behalf of the board after the Tawel Fan report

Announcing the appointment of Mr Dean as "accountable officer" and others as expert advisers to the Betsi Cadwaladr board, Mr Drakeford told AMs in the Senedd on Tuesday he was putting measures in place to "stabilise and strengthen" the running of NHS services in north Wales.

He said the local population need to have "confidence that these services will be there for them in the way they need in the future".

Mr Drakeford outlined the areas where he expected to see "tangible improvement":

  • Governance, leadership and oversight
  • Mental health services
  • Maternity services at Glan Clwyd Hospital
  • GP and primary care services, including out-of-hours services
  • Improved public confidence through a "listening exercise"

Responding for the Conservatives, Shadow Health Minister Darren Millar said he thought special measures were "long overdue" and that other senior figures should have stepped down.

"This has been a dysfunctional health board now for a number of years," he said.

"It has been quite clear to many people in north Wales and beyond that the board needs help desperately to address the challenges that it faces, particularly in terms of the failures in governance and leadership which had been identified more than two years ago by the Healthcare Inspectorate and the Wales Audit Office."

Image caption Families described patients being treated like animals in a zoo at the Tawel Fan unit

Plaid Cymru AM Llyr Gruffydd said ministers should take their share of the blame for failures at Betsi Cadwaladr, which saw senior figures resign in 2013 following an earlier critical report about its performance.

"My concern now is that we will see figureheads suspended or even replaced, as we saw with the former chair and chief executive, but the ship will continue to sail towards the rocks because the course that has been set by this government is flawed," he said.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have called for a new health watchdog fully independent of government.

Leader Kirsty Williams said: "The latest round of shocking reports on care within our NHS reveals a complete failure of all the systems that should be in place to protect our most vulnerable people."

Analysis by Vaughan Roderick, BBC Welsh Affairs Editor

Labour has reorganised the health service in Wales twice since devolution, so the decision to intervene in the running of the Betsi Cadwaladr health board was a painful one.

It was, in effect, an admission that the system Labour had devised to deliver health services in Wales had lost the confidence of patients across the north of the country.

While the government insists that the decision was taken in the interests of patients, it would be naive to think that the fact that an assembly election is to be held in less than a year was far from ministers' minds

Problems at Glan Clwyd Hospital may well have resulted in the Conservatives' unexpected victory in the Vale of Clwyd in the recent general election, and the Welsh government's record on health is expected to be a major issue in the 2016 assembly election.

It is clear that the government believes that it can't allow things to continue as they are, but there's a political risk in intervening too.

It will be more difficult for the government to blame others for any problems that arise in service in the north between now and the election.

As the "arm's length" relationship with the health board disappears, responsibility will rest squarely on the shoulders of the minister.

'Watershed day'

The suspension of Mr Purt was confirmed at a meeting of the Betsi Cadwaladr health board on Tuesday.

Board chair Peter Higson said it was a "neutral act" to allow us "the space and time to follow due process".

He said he welcomed the decision to put the board into special measures, saying it was "clear" the board needed "significant support" to meet the challenges it faced.

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Media captionBetsi Cadwaladr vice chair Margaret Hanson says everything will be done to put things right

Dr Higson said it was a "watershed day" adding that it was "in all our interests to get this right" if the board was to regain the trust of the people of north Wales.

Geoff Ryall-Harvey, chief executive of the region's community health council - the patient watchdog - welcomed Mr Purt's suspension, saying: "He's been here for a year and I don't think the 'not-on-my-watch' argument works.

"He was brought in to resolve these problems. He hasn't made the progress that he was employed to make."

The Betsi Cadwaladr board's deputy chair Margaret Hanson told BBC Wales that its members, most of whom were relatively new to their posts, had been "really saddened and disappointed" by what they had discovered.

"We are absolutely determined to make sure that no stone is left unturned and that we actually do put these things right, but it will take time because there are so many of them," she added.

Analysis by Nick Servini, BBC Wales political editor

Health Minister Mark Drakeford says there won't be any micro-management of Betsi Cadwaladr by the Welsh government.

There's an argument to say that special measures are by definition micro-management, and that was quickly borne out by the announcement that the chief executive had been suspended.

The decision on the chief executive, and indeed the decision on special measures in the first place, should take the sting out of criticism from opposition parties.

But there's been no let-up from the critics. Plaid Cymru says special measures are a "huge acceptance of failure" while the leader of the Welsh Conservatives Andrew RT Davies says the board members who were there at the time of the Tawel Fan scandal should "look long and hard at their position".

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