Wales politics

Andrew RT Davies: AMs kept in dark on suspended CHC boss

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Media captionAndrew RT Davies says there has been "nothing - not a statement, not a comment" from ministers

The Welsh Conservative leader has accused ministers of keeping AMs "in the dark" over the suspension of the patients' watchdog's chief executive.

The Board of Community Health Councils' (CHCs) boss Tony Rucinski has been suspended on full pay for 11 months.

Tory leader Andrew RT Davies said he wants a "full explanation" why the assembly was not told about the matter.

A Welsh Government spokesman called the suspension "wholly an internal matter for the CHC Board".

BBC Wales understands ministers were informed of the suspension and told that cover arrangements had been made.

Neither the board nor Dr Rucinski have said why he has been off work.

Plaid Cymru health spokesman Rhun ap Iorwerth said he was "deeply worried" at a suggestion ministers may have put pressure on the chair of the Board of CHCs Mutale Merrill to stop Dr Rucinski doing media interviews before his suspension.

'Media embargo'

Emails seen by BBC Wales written before his suspension show Mr Rucinski raised concerns about being stopped from doing interviews on a Welsh Government digital health initiative in December 2015, and on a report by the OECD think tank comparing UK health services in February 2016.

In the emails Dr Rucinski stated that his job description involved doing media interviews and suggested he felt Ms Merill's instructions to him not to do interviews may have been influenced by a meeting with a minister.

Ms Merrill says she does not believe the content of those emails to be "factually correct".

A Welsh Government spokesman said: "We have looked into allegations of ministerial interference in this matter and there is no evidence to support these claims."

In a board meeting shortly after Dr Rucinski's suspension, Ms Merrill said a "media embargo" had "only been imposed on the chief executive regarding this one news item" - the OECD story.

Image caption Tony Rucinski had been in the role for seven months when he was suspended

Damian Phillips, employment lawyer at Darwin Gray, said it was an "an extraordinary period of time to suspend an employee, though not unprecedented in the public sector in Wales".

"It appears that Dr Rucinski has been employed for less than two years, so he does not have the right not to be unfairly dismissed," he said.

"Unless there is a contractual requirement to complete the process, I would have expected him to either have been allowed to return to work or dismissed many months ago."

'Gagging order'

Mr Davies said: "I will be seeking answers from the Cabinet Health Secretary [Vaughan Gething] as to why the decision was made to keep assembly members in the dark over this issue, and why this protracted case hasn't yet been brought to a conclusion."

"I look forward to a full and satisfactory explanation from the Welsh Government," he said.

Mr ap Iorwerth said he was "deeply worried by the suggestion this could be related to some sort of gagging order" on Dr Rucinski "and more so by the suggestion this may have been as a result of government pressure".

The matter should be "properly investigated", he added.

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