FMQs: Waiting Times, Batteries & Patient Voices

70,000 people waiting longer than six weeks for outpatient appointments in north Wales

Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.), returned to the under-performance of Betsi Cadwaladr health board:

“According to the Daily Post, a freedom of information request found 70,908 people have had to wait more than six weeks for their out-patient appointment. A staggering 27,334 people have had to wait at least 53 weeks…. And let’s look at some other facts, First Minister. Patients attending the emergency department are now waiting, on average, seven hours to get a resolution.”
– Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies

Paul repeated that special measures were doing little to change the situation and also repeated calls for the Health Minister to resign.

The First Minister said the health board will remain in special measures for however long it’s deemed necessary. He accused Paul Davies of being selective in his figures, as across Wales the proportion of patients waiting longer than 26 weeks for treatment was at its lowest levels since 2018 and therapy waits were 98% lower this March compared to last March.

Opportunities for Bridgend

Adam Price AM (Plaid, Carms. E. & Dinefwr) found it hard to believe the Ford engine plant announcement was that much of a shock given long-standing uncertainty over jobs at Bridgend. Would the Welsh Government now take a leaf out of Scotland’s book – following the closure of the Michelin plant in Dundee – and go and meet Ford’s executives in America?

The First Minister confirmed he’ll be meeting senior Ford Europe executives and discussed Scotland’s approach to the Michelin closure with Nicola Sturgeon.

Adam Price moved on to discuss future uses for the site:

“We know the future of cars is electric, and one of the leading companies in the field is Tesla. It’s opened two gigafactories in the US. It’s looking to open one in China and one in Europe….Elon Musk has specifically said….that if GM closes plants in the US, he’d be interested in taking them over. Could that principle be applied here? Another major company in the field is the Swedish company, Northvolt, which is building a gigafactory producing battery cells with the help of one of the biggest ever investments by the EU’s strategic investment fund and the European Investment Bank.”
– Adam Price AM

The First Minister agreed that all of that was worth adding to the mix of suggestions for the future of the Bridgend plant. The recent announcement that a battery plant will be set up in Port Talbot is a sign Wales is able to attract these kinds of investments.

Are Community Health Councils the voice of the patient, or the government?

Mark Reckless AM (BXP, South Wales East) asked about the levels of autonomy for health boards and community health councils (CHCs). Did the special measures regime strike the right balance between local and central control? He was concerned proposals to change CHCs will lead to more “top-down” bodies “under the thumb of the Welsh Government”.

The First Minister was adamant there would be a greater voice for patients:

“As far as CHCs are concerned, I think we have a proud history in that area. We retained CHCs when they were abolished across our border, and we’ve always supported them in the work that they do. Now there is an opportunity, in the legislation that will come before the Senedd, to make sure that, with the part that CHCs play in the quality arrangements that we have in the Welsh NHS, we maximise the contribution that those local voluntary people have in being the eyes and ears of patients.”
– First Minister, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West)

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