FMQs: First Minister talks himself into trouble on health while PISA scores praised

“I’m responsible for the NHS in Wales….except that bit”

Following the general election debates over the last couple of days – and the problems he’s caused Labour in particular – Adam Price AM (Plaid, Carms. E. & Dinefwr) was unlikely to focus on anything other than health.

Asking whether Labour’s UK Shadow Cabinet members should familiarise themselves with health issues in Labour-run Wales, he also touched on the future of the NHS given future trade deals which could result in additional private involvement. Why wasn’t Labour backing Plaid’s motion for a Welsh veto on trade deals (to be tabled tomorrow)?

Finally, the bombshell following a FOI request:

“….can you say whether you believe it’s appropriate that your officials sought to involve the chief executive of Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board….in political matters by sharing the text of a Plaid Cymru motion in the Senedd with him, to which he responded with….’a suggested line to take’? He also states in his e-mail that the now-rescinded proposals to introduce unpaid breaks for nurses….are already operating in another Welsh health board. You have redacted the identity of the health board in question. Are you able to tell us which one it is? And before you say, ‘These are operational matters’, or ‘Blame it on the Tories’, are you prepared to acknowledge that….there is one person that is ultimately responsible….for the NHS, and it’s you?”
– Adam Price AM

The First Minister focused more on how questions were asked rather than the substance. He said the Cwm Taf maternity scandal deserved a more considered response from Adam Price, who was “running Wales down” by “touring television studios”. While he expects, or hopes, a Labour UK Government would prevent the need for any measures to protect the NHS from trade deals, he’s answerable on the state of the Welsh NHS every week in the chamber (but let his bad temper get the better of him):

“I’m responsible for the NHS in Wales, Llywydd, and I’m very proud indeed to be in that position….I don’t know which other health board has similar arrangements, nor do I need to know. I’m not responsible for nurse rotas; I’m responsible for the policy, the direction and the funding of the national health service.”
– First Minister, Mark Drakeford AM (Lab, Cardiff West)

Stale PISA?

Both the Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.) and Mark Reckless AM (BXP, South Wales East) asked questions on the PISA 2018 results.

Paul Davies noted that while improvements have been made, the results in 2018 weren’t statistically significant from 2006.

“Despite the hard work of those in the teaching profession, Wales’ science scores are still significantly worse than 2006; Wales is ranked bottom of the UK nations in reading, maths and science; and Wales is the only UK nation to score below the OECD average in all PISA measures. It’s quite clear, First Minister, that you and your Government are failing to significantly improve Wales’ education system.”
– Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM

Mark Reckless AM took a slightly different view, saying the difference between the Welsh score and the OECD average in maths and science was only fractional but was more significant when it came to reading. He noted concerns from headteachers regarding shortages of textbooks and other teaching materials.

The First Minister was, as you might expect, more upbeat about the performance than the Tories. The results had to be looked at in the round and the reforms to education in Wales were amongst the most ambitious anywhere in the UK. On reading, the First Minister pointed towards the relatively poor performance of male students.

“There is evidence in the figures of Wales’s relative improvement over time in reading….but we recognise, of course, that there is more that we need to do, particularly in tackling the phenomenon, which is true internationally, it’s true in every single OECD country, that young women outrank young men when it comes to reading. That is a more challenging problem in some parts of Wales, and there’s more that we will want to do, and our new curriculum, we believe, will help us to do that.”
– First Minister, Mark Drakeford

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