A health board which has been in Special Measures for five-and-a-half years has been guaranteed an £82m a-year boost despite continued “poor performance”.
Health and social care minister Vaughan Gething announced the package of “strategic assistance” cash for Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board to the Senedd on Tuesday.
He said the money, which will be given annually over the next three-and-a-half years, would “enable the health board to reset and plan sustainably for the future”.
The cash will be for:
Covering the deficit of up to £40 million a year
Funding to improve unscheduled care and build a sustainable planned care programme, including orthopaedics, of £30 million a year
£12 million a year to support performance improvement and implementation of the mental health strategy in partnership; and support to build broader capability and capacity in the organisation
Plaid Cymru MS Llyr Gruffydd said he welcomed anything that improves health for people in North Wales but the extra cash award sounded “wearily familiar”.
Betsi Cadwaladr’s chair Mark Polin and acting chief executive Gill Harris said the announcement demonstrated a “growing confidence” in plans to make continuous improvements.
Speaking to the Senedd Mr Gething said: “Whilst many other health organisations have related issues to address, as Members are aware, they are more long-standing for North Wales and performance is disproportionately poor in respect of high-profile areas, such as referral to treatment and accident and emergency, demonstrating a need to enable recurrent and longer term solutions.”
Although the health board had improved performance in maternity and out of hours services it still needed to get better at: leadership and governance, managing its finances, delivering mental health services and upgrading performance in acute medicine, he said.
Mr Gething praised the board’s response to Covid-19 and added it was time for a “different approach” to solving the board’s problems, which would be underpinned by the new funding.
He said: “This will enable the health board to move away from short-term actions and make progress on medium and longer term planning that translates into an approvable plan.”
Llyr Gruffydd said: “More money being thrown at senior management, more planning for the future, more reports.
“Going into special measures should have meant immediate steps to transform the health board – it was a steady decline that led to special measures – and I have to wonder whether the health minister is willing to accept there has been a failure to address the root causes over the past five years.
“We need a radical shake-up of our health board. Staff are over-stretched and have been let down by a culture that has often turned to expensive management consultants to provide slick reports but little of substance to turn round problem services.”
Mr Gruffydd added: “Funding has been squandered due to a lack of long-term planning to recruit, retain and train many hundreds more doctors, nurses and other health professionals to meet demand.
“With that in mind, I’m disappointed the promise of further money is not being matched with an insistence that deep managerial and structural changes are needed.”
Health board chair Mark Polin and acting CEO Gill Harris said they welcomed the funding.
In a joint statement they said the money would help the board “build on work” developing “transformational, long-term, sustainable solutions” to the problems it faces.
They added: “It will also allow us to progress ambitious plans to improve patient experience and waiting times.
“We intend to build more capacity to help us to tackle long waiting lists and ease pressure on our district general hospitals and our plans include the establishment of diagnostic and treatment centres.
“We will also drive forward the business case for a North Wales Medical and Health Science School.
“We remain committed to working with partners and the public across North Wales on the reshaping of our services.”