Rishi Sunak says he's 'deeply worried' about Betsi Cadwaladr and backs investigation

Rishi Sunak speaking in the House of Commons
Rishi Sunak said he was "deeply worried" about Betsi Cadwaladr health board

The Prime Minister says he's "deeply worried" about the running of Wales' largest health board and hinted that it should be investigated by the police.

Meanwhile the Welsh Health Minister revealed that "key individuals have been suspended" but said any investigation was a matter for the police.

Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board is at the centre of a series of controversies and allegations and the Welsh Government has been heavily criticised for its handling of those issues.

In February this year, the Health Minister, Eluned Morgan, placed it back into special measures just two years after it was taken out of those special measures which had been in place since 2015.

At the same time she asked the eleven members of the independent board who’d been put in place to monitor executives to quit their positions.

Today one of those board members has told BBC Wales that the dismissal was "tantamount to bullying."

Eluned Morgan said she had serious concerns about the performance of the health board

In March, Eluned Morgan survived a confidence vote in her led by Conservatives in the Senedd

The Welsh Government was forced to add a footnote to the Senedd record after being accused of not "accurately representing the facts" involved in its decision.

Plaid Cymru published a letter from the public services watchdog the Auditor General who insisted that he did not advice the then health minister to "de-escalate" the special measures.

The First Minister clarified his earlier comments saying that ministers took the decision on the basis of advice from officials which were in turn informed by consultation with others including Audit Wales and Healthcare Inspectorate Wales.

More recently Plaid Cymru's former leader Adam Price and the Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies have raised concerns about a report by the accountancy firm Ernst and Young.

The report, which has been seen by ITV Wales but which hasn't been published, claims that officials at Betsi Cadwaladr made incorrect entries in accounts and altered details.

When asked about it by Andrew RT Davies in the Senedd last week, the First Minister said,  "Firstly, the actions to be taken as a result of the report will be taken by the board. Legally, they are responsible for it; they will discharge those responsibilities.

"That is the way in which the system has to operate, not in the way that he has attempted to operate it this afternoon, spraying around a series of accusations from a document that most people here will not have seen.

"The leader of the opposition may well wave a document in front of us that he should not have seen. Does he not realise—does he not realise—is his grasp of proprieties so redundant that he does not realise that quoting to me a report that he has received through means that are not legitimate is not the way in which business can ever properly be conducted?"

David Jones MP raised concerns during Prime Minister's Questions

Today that report was raised in the House of Commons by Clwyd West MP David Jones who said, "Mr. Speaker, last year the independent members of the Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board in North Wales became so concerned about the board's finances that they arranged for Ernst and Young to produce a forensic accountancy report which revealed serious misconduct on the part of several senior board executives, including a conspiracy to falsify accounts.

"Astonishingly, the response of the Labour Welsh Health secretary to this scandal was to demand the resignation of those independent board members, while almost all the senior executives in question have been allowed to remain in post many of them drawing six figure salaries.

"Does the Prime Minister agree that this disgraceful state of affairs should be investigated by the police? And does he further agree that it demonstrates why Labour are unfit to run important public services in any part of our country?"

In response, Rishi Sunak said, "Mr. Speaker, as my Right Honourable friend knows I am deeply worried about the Betsi Cadwaladr hospital (sic) in Labour-run North Wales.

"It has been as he said in special measures for six of the last eight years, as he remarked, the official audit said there was worrying dysfunctionality.

"I do hope this issue is investigated properly and I believe my honourable friend is in contact with the Secretary of State for Wales to take this further."

A Welsh Government spokesperson said, “Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board is progressing the management of the issues raised in the Ernst & Young report in line with their existing procedures and policies. 

"This follows the conclusion of the NHS Counter Fraud Wales investigation connected to the Auditor General’s qualified opinion of the Health Board’s 2021-22 financial accounts. 

"We do not comment on leaked documents, particularly when, as in this case, internal procedures are still proceeding at the Health Board.”

There have also been strong exchanges in the Senedd about the Betsi Cadwaladr situation.

Eluned Morgan told MSs that she understood that some employees had been suspended pending an investigation following the Ernst and Young report.

But she also accused opposition members of "undermining" the work of those trying to improve the health board.

Darren Millar demanded to know why nobody had been sacked following critical report

Welsh Conservative MS Darren Millar asked the health minister why there have been no sackings.

He said, "Minister, it's been four months since that report was published. I cannot fathom why, in that period of four months, those individuals who were responsible for these actions have not been dismissed from that health board."

In response Eluned Morgan said that "My understanding is that the key individuals named in this report have been suspended, and, clearly, they have legal employment rights.

"The key thing for me is that we've got to follow the right process so that any system that needs to be followed is not undermined.

"I can assure you that, from the report, the Welsh Government was exonerated, that there wasn't any suggestion that Welsh Government was in any way implicated in any of this."

Rhun ap Iorwerth has called for Betsi Cadwaladr health board to be broken up

Plaid Cymru's health spokesperson, Rhun ap Iorwerth said that there needs to be a polcie investigation.

He said, "I welcome the statement from North Wales Police saying they’re assessing the situation; I, too, call on them to initiate a full investigation.

"Now the First Minister told the Senedd that with the NHS counter fraud department having decided no criminal threshold had been reached, this was now only an internal matter for Betsi, but given the seriousness of the allegations now published, and given the doubts about potential conflicts of interest, conflicts of interest which the independent member suggests make it impossible for Welsh Government or its various health agencies to be able to comment objectively, will the Minister now agree that it’s beyond question that the police must investigate too, and that that investigation must have the full support of Welsh Government?"

Eluned Morgan said that "The police will determine if a criminal investigation is required, and they’ve already said that they’re looking at this and it’s not up to me to tell the police whether a criminal investigation is required; that is something that they will need to determine themselves."

Rhun ap Iorwerth repeated Plaid Cymru's call for the health board to be broken up, saying that "Our position is clear and has been for some time: I think we need a fresh start. Can the Minister answer me this? And I know she'd rather avoid reorganisation—we all would. But isn't there a point where she is willing to say, 'Enough is enough'? We need a plan in place at least for new health structures in the north."

In response, the Health Minister said that her appointment of a fresh board was a fresh start and added that "There are 20,000 people who work for the health board, and I've got to tell you that the morale of this constant criticism is really sapping their morale.

"Now, I'm not going to reorganise, Rhun. That is not going to happen under my watch. You can keep harping on if you want, but it's not going to change my mind. I think you are undermining the people who you represent—the 2,000 people in Anglesey who are actually trying to get on with their day job.

"Now, of course, I'm happy to be held to account. I'm held to account on a weekly basis here, very differently, let me point out, from the situation in England, where despite the fact that they have 21 hospitals in special measures equivalent—21—never, as far as I can tell, has there been a question on the floor of the house in the House of Commons on any one of those, and I am here week after week after week."