Mark Drakeford defends Health Minister Eluned Morgan amid 'intense' NHS pressures

Mark Drakeford said he recognises the NHS was "very very pressured" at the moment

Wales' First Minister has leapt to the defence of his health minister amid a period of intense pressure across the health service.

Mark Drakeford told ITV News Eluned Morgan has "absolutely been a part" of a "team effort" over the winter after she was accused of being "missing in action".

It comes as the Director of the Welsh NHS Confederation described the service as being “on a knife edge” in terms of its ability to cope with sustained levels of pressure.

Mr Drakeford said the situation has been exacerbated by an increase in Covid cases as well as an "upswing" in people suffering from flu.

"We had 840 more people in hospital this Christmas than we did last year. We have to work our way through them and get the system back into balance".

Criticising the health minister during this period, Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson for health and care, Rhun ap Iorwerth MS said, “When experts are using terms like ‘knife-edge’ and ‘breaking point’ to describe the critical state that the NHS in Wales is in, it requires an urgent and decisive response from Welsh Government. Yet our Health Minister – who at the very least should be visible – is no-where to be seen.

“Our heroic health and care workers, who are not only dealing with extreme pressures from increased demand and staff shortages, are now having to front up for TV interviews. Meanwhile the Health Minister is missing in action."

Eluned Morgan has been criticised for being "missing in action" during a period of intense pressure across the NHS

In her defence, Mr Drakeford said, "The NHS is being led by a team of people, the chief medical officer has been out doing interviews, the head of the NHS has been doing interviews, the health minister will be on the floor of the Senedd next week.

"It is a team effort and the health minister has absolutely been part of that through the whole of this winter."

Speaking about the demand, the first minister said the situation has "improved" slightly over this week but described it as being "still very very pressured".

"It's not quite as intense as we saw in the post-Christmas couple of days.

"Part of the reason is because we have been able to discharge more people - whose risks are low and health situation is stable, in order to create more space at the front door of the hospital for those whose needs are greater and more acute. That effort will have to continue over the coming days."

The chief executive of the NHS also told ITV News on Thursday she would not describe it as a "crisis" but acknowledges the situation is “hugely pressurised.”

Judith Paget said health chiefs are responding to the “enormous pressure” caused by covid and flu which has had a knock-on effect on other parts of the health service. 

"It’s been busy, it’s been incredibly busy. We've had a number of hospitals that have been in the highest state of escalation... they were de-escalated today, but it is incredibly pressurised. The flu season can last up to 12 weeks, so that plus a continuation of COVID numbers is going to continue to put pressure on the NHS and of course children to go back to school next week and we sometimes see an increase in viruses and COVID when that happens.

"So I'm being very cautious about the next couple of weeks, I have to say."

It comes as the Welsh Government told health boards that some patients may need be sent home from hospital without care packages in place as demand for bed space soared.

In a letter, the Welsh Government said there is a need for hospitals to consider discharge arrangements that "may not be perfect". The letter continued: "A care package may not yet be in place and social care assessments may need to happen at home rather than in hospital."

During the interview with ITV News, Mr Drakeford said focus is also being put on having a functioning care system where he argued paying social care workers the real living wage is part of the government's effort to recruit more people into the sector which he described as an "important and rewarding job". Mark Drakeford also said he would not seek to defend some of the shocking stories about people not being able to access appropriate hospital care which included the story of Steven Parsons who had to carry his elderly grandfather through a hospital car park while he had a cardiac arrest. "Absolutely nobody would wish to go through that or seek to defend their experience and this vividly illustrates that we need to create capacity in the health system by discharging people who don't need to be in hospital.

"The system is not properly balanced; There are too many low risk people in hospital and too many high risk people struggling to get the service they need."