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A new health board improvement plan has been described by an opposition MS as “special measures in all but name”.

Following the de-escalation of the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board from special measures last November, Wednesday saw the health minister set out four key areas that require improvement.

The board, which covers the north of Wales, had been in special measures since June 2015 due to “serious and outstanding concerns about leadership, governance and progress” after the failure of earlier “targeted intervention”.

With some services coming out of special measures in 2019, including Glan Clwyd maternity and GP out of hours services , the remainder followed at the tail end of 2020.

But setting out four key areas that continue to require improvement, Vaughan Gething MS outlined those as:

Mental Health (adult and children)
Strategy, planning and performance
Leadership (including governance, transformation and culture)
Engagement (patients, public, staff and partners)
Promising that Welsh Government would work closely with the health board throughout, ensuring that progress is being made and agreeing appropriate interventions where necessary, a further assessment will take place in May.

“As the health board moves into targeted intervention, transformation and innovation is essential, with the organisation continuing to build on the improvements that have already been made,” added Mr Gething.
“Targeted intervention is still a heightened level of escalation that requires significant action, but I am confident that the health board is committed to do all that is needed to see further development.

“I want to thank the staff at Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board who have made and sustained the progress to end special measures, alongside tackling the coronavirus pandemic.”

The Targeted Intervention plan has been supported by Welsh Government funding of £297m up to the end of 2023/24, as announced last year, used to improve unscheduled care; build sustainable planned care, including orthopaedics; and deliver improvements in mental health services.

But responding to this afternoon’s announcement, one north Wales Tory MS accused the Welsh Government of “trying to mislead the people” and that with improvements still required in a number of key areas that were unresolved by special measures, the change in status was “political” with the board remaining in special measures “in all but name.”

“This is nothing more than a rebranding of Special Measures,” said Darren Millar MS, who represents Clwyd West.

“While the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board has been doing a great job in terms of vaccine rollout, the truth is that it still needs to make significant improvements on a number of other fronts that were identified as failing almost six years ago, including mental health services, public engagement and leadership.

“Waiting times in north Wales were already unacceptable prior to the pandemic and access to GP and dentistry services remains fragile.

“With only nine weeks remaining until the Welsh Parliament elections, it is clear to everyone why the Health Minister has made this move.

“The people of north Wales are not easily fooled however and will see past his desperate attempt to redeem the years of Welsh Government failure when it comes to our NHS.”

Ynys Mon MS and Plaid Cymru Shadow Health Minister, Rhun ap Iorwerth, said: “After so many years in special measures, the move into a lower level of measures late last year – targeted intervention – showed some steps had been taken in the right direction.
“The four areas now highlighted for improvement shows there’s still a long way to go, and the pandemic makes the challenge even greater.
“Based on the experience of recent years, I’ve expressed my view that a fresh start is needed, with smaller, more manageable structures serving the north.
“It’s up to the health board under a new leader to show it can turn things around under current structures.”

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