23/10/2011

Ceredigion health projects put on hold

The Welsh Government’s Health Minister, Lesley Griffiths, has put all unstarted health service building projects on hold until at least the new year because she is new to the health portfolio. That was the surprising announcement made in an Assembly debate last week. The stoppage may affect plans for Aberaeron, Tregaron and Cardigan hospitals in Ceredigion, but not Bronglais Hospital in Aberystwyth which already has a major A&E extension scheme well underway.

Elin Jones, Ceredigion's Assembly Member and Plaid Cymru's Shadow Health Spokesperson, said in a statement,
“This amazing admission by the Health Minister suggests mind-boggling ignorance of the economic crisis that we’re in. Here in Ceredigion, everybody knows that there is a real need for new healthcare facilities to replace the ageing buildings which we currently have in Cardigan, Tregaron and Aberaeron. This revelation means that local people will have to wait even longer for these proposed new buildings to materialise, and I fear that the longer they’re put off, the less likely they are to see the light of day.

“The previous One Wales government outlined priority projects for the NHS in 2011-12. Although there’s a £17m reduction in next year’s capital budget, this in no way merits putting all projects on hold in this way”.

As everyone knows, the change that’s taken place in the Welsh Government since the election in May has been from a Labour/Plaid coalition with a Labour Health Minister (Edwina Hart) to a soley Labour government with another Labour Health Minister (Lesley Griffiths). With that degree of continuity you might think that the process of government would be able to continue, and that the new Labour Health Minister might stick to the decisions made by her predecessor. However the more significant change might be the absence of Plaid Cymru in government to stand up for Ceredigion.

The Bronglais Hospital development managed to secure full funding just before the election and can now be seen heading skywards from my bathroom window (see photo, although it is, of course, possible to view the development from places other than my bathroom).

The general funding disarray around election times leads professionals working in a range of fields dependent on public funding to despair. With everything having to stop before an election and, it seems, for some time afterwards, and with an Assembly election normally taking place every four years with other elections in between, it means that no-one can plan anything more than three years ahead at most. One might expect a slightly smoother transition with the same party holding the health portfolio but apparently not. There has to be a better way of doing government.

The County Council elections next May could be the next funding complication with ministers unwilling to make any announcements that could hit their party in the polls.

Meanwhile the £38 million Bronglais scheme continues on schedule. The new building will reach its full height in November and work will then commence to the external walls and interior. The new building should be completed by February 2013. The remaining work will then be internal, with the whole scheme scheduled for full completion and ready to open by November 2015.

The new Health Minister's announcement underlines how important it was that Bronglais funding was agreed before the election and what might have happened if it hadn't been...

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