It is interesting how selective our politicians can be in looking back on their ‘triumphs’, and the way the mainstream media ‘report’ them.
The First Minister of Wales (FMW) Mark Drakeford has said he is “standing up for Wales” yet he was Welsh health minister when a series of huge scandals erupted on his watch, and ultimately in charge when another rocked a leading Higher Education institution.
He backed left wing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn who led his party to the worst Westminster election result since 1935, and he may have opened himself up to legal action following his controversial decision to scrap plans for an M4 relief road even though the planning inspector said the case was “compelling”.
But he was not challenged about any of these controversies.
In his ‘interview’ with the Cardiff-based South Wales Echo, after a year as FMW, he told the reporter about his job: “I think the thing that probably surprised me the most is the relentlessness of it.
“If you’re a minister you answer questions once a month so one weekend is ruined once a month, if you’re First Minister you answer questions every week. So every weekend you have to find a lot of time for doing it”.
But this may be difficult to swallow for some who have been affected by his decisions.
Perhaps ‘relentless’ is a word that springs to mind for the drivers sitting motionless in vehicles queueing to go through the Brynglas Tunnels on the M4 near Newport, after Mr Drakeford abandoned plans for a relief road.
Possibly he should ‘answer questions’ about backing the extreme left wing Mr Corbyn, whose election strategy failed so spectacularly that the Tory party gained more seats over Lanour since 1987, and when the former Labour minister Roy Hattersley said today the party was in a far worse state than during the ascendancy of Militant in the 1980s (for Militant now read Momentum).
The police have also had to ‘find a lot of time’ in conducting a series of extraordinary raids on properties after a highly dubious land deal was orchestrated by now-sacked individuals at a leading Welsh university, when Higher Education is a devolved issue.
Then there is the ‘ruined’ lives of the families of patients at Tawel Fan Mental Health Unit in Ysbyty Clwyd after their loved ones were filmed crawling across floors (by a UK newspaper) before it was demolished. A report into the scandal in 2015 said there was “institutional abuse”, and Mr Drakeford’s star has risen since.
He was the Welsh Government Minister for Health and Social Services at the time of the scandal, but went on to become the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government, before being appointed FMW.
After the revelations he apologised and said there would be an “urgent meeting”.
But the Welsh health service hit the headlines for other reasons too while he was at the helm, which he was also not confronted with by the reporter.
The Eye were given exclusive details by whistleblowers who had worked at Brecon War Memorial Hospital of how an elderly stroke victim was allegedly slapped in bed by a carer, and visiting families were forced to bring in food to keep their starving relatives alive. We have also been told that falsification of notes at the hospital was “routine practice”.
One whistleblower said: “The night culture at Brecon hospital is amateur at best, dangerous at worst. (Staff were) drunk on duty, nurses (were) put to bed as they were drunk, then woken up before days-staff turned up. A convicted sex-offender was working as a care assistant.” A police investigation followed which lasted several months.
The disturbing news of the events at the Brecon hospital came hard on the heels of earlier alarming information, which also came to light when Mr Drakeford was Welsh health minister.
At Ysbyty Cwm Cynon in Mountain Ash, 10 hospital workers were suspended following the death of an elderly woman who was found with “unexplained and serious injuries” on a ward. Meanwhile nurses at a hospital in Bridgend were investigated by police for allegedly drugging elderly and difficult patients to enjoy a quiet night shift.
One nurse exposed what was happening at the town’s Princess of Wales hospital before the death of 82 year old Lillian Willams. She had one of her legs amputated but died in 2013 after a catalogue of neglect at the hospital, which is part of the Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University (ABMU) health board. In total two deaths occured at the hospital, following a review recommended changes in practices which should have ensured “patient safety”.
Yet curiously Mr Drakeford was not pressed on any of these matters during his ‘interview’ with the South Wales Echo, which was re-published in the internet version WalesOnline. Instead he was merely forced to address the Welsh Government’s (WG) poor record on the health service in Wales.
The number of patients waiting 12 hours or more in A&E units has gone up from 2,235 in October 2015, to 5,581 in October 2019.
The percentage who have to wait more than four hours to be treated, admitted or discharged has risen as well, to its highest on record at 26.6 per cent – meaning just over one in four patients attending A&E endure having the start of their treatment delayed by more than four hours.
Mr Drakeford admitted these figures were a ‘point of concern’, and said the pressure on A&E departments is “enormous”.
The Echo ‘reported’ that he told them the Welsh NHS is ‘treating more patients more quickly and more successfully than ever before with more people going through the door’.
What then about one of the biggest scandals Wales has ever faced; at Swansea University. Was he at least asked about this, given that as Higher Education is a devolved issue he is, ultimately, responsible?
His silence comes as key figures connected with a multi-million pound land scheme are, with others, at the heart of a police investigation into the whole affair, and during which several senior officials have been relieved of their duties.
Among those who have been sacked is Richard Davies, formerly the university’s Vice-Chancellor (VC), and the Dean of his School of Management Marc Clement, who were dismissed for “gross misconduct”. The police investigation continues.
In the inquiry underway, South Wales Police have said the regional crime unit executed “a number of warrants as part of an investigation into alleged bribery offences”. The Eye have been alone in naming the top-level executives whose homes and offices have been raided.
There are connections too, with a leading Welsh thinktank named after a celebrated former First Minister of Wales.
Senior executives at the Morgan Academy which says it addresses the “wicked issues” of public policy in Wales, are based at the university’s controversial management school, formerly led by Professor Clement.
The Welsh Assembly Member (AM) Helen Mary Jones headed up the academy in the past and has recently said there had been “no due process” in the inquiry running alongside the police investigation which has resulted in the dismissals of Professor Clement and others from the school.
Yet Swansea University itself has been no stranger to bad headlines either. Only The Eye have exposed how a convicted fraudster was given a job at the university.
The School of Management at the troubled institution employed on a contract, criminal Steve Chan. This came despite the fact that our journalists have shown Chan was jailed for years in America after a massive fraud.
He had been imprisoned by a court in Boston for four years and three months, and ordered to pay millions of dollars in compensation. Chan’s jail term was followed by three years of supervised release, after he admitted one count of conspiracy to commit fraud and one count of mail fraud – he was also ordered to pay restitution of $12,596,298.
Yet none of this appeared in the ‘interview’ with Mr Drakeford.
So was he, then, questioned about the appalling disaster for Labour at the General Election earlier this month given his firm support for the hard left leader Mr Corbyn (he was the only Welsh Labour leadership contender to vote for him)?
In a way yes – the paper said he admitted that the result was ‘concerning for members’ and that “Those are very disappointing (our italics) seats for us to lose”.
Disappointing for Labour is right, as the party has now been plunged into civil war with leading lights battling to take over from Mr Drakeford’s favourite.
“The actual aftermath is proving to be even worse than the election loss itself and that was truly awful”, was the way one Labour MP who retained her seat described the atmosphere now in the party.
To further put this ‘disappointment’ in context, apart from the General Election being the worst result for Labour since 1935, it secured for the Tories the party’s biggest majority for 32 years. Labour now finds itself with only 203 seats, and during his time at the top, Mr Drakeford’s man as Labour leader, Mr Corbyn, secured such low figures they were only beaten by Michael Foot who was another electoral disaster.
To some, perhaps, Mr Drakeford’s repudiation of recommendations contained in the report into a new M4 relief road around Newport, could also be seen as a disaster.
The inspector who conducted a lengthy inquiry, Bill Wadrup, gave the route south of the city his overwhelming backing. He said that creating the highway from Junction 23 to Junction 29 would be a good use of public funds, that environmental objections were overstated, and the project was in the public interest. Mr Wadrup concluded that the criticisms “do not, either jointly or separately, outweigh the proof of public benefits that the scheme would bring”.
Yet Mr Drakeford decided against these ‘benefits’ and set up a commission instead. But as one successful Cardiff developer, Paul McCarthy of Rightacres told us: “…what worries me is the impact the decision not to build the relief road will have on tourism”.
He wasn’t quizzed ‘relentlessly’ about any of these alarming controversies, instead the Echo ‘reported’ that Mr Drakeford ‘chuckled’.
It is possible the drivers waiting in vehicles at Brynglas Tunnels, those who have been victims of anti-Semitism in his leader Mr Corbyn’s Labour party, or people affected by the scandals in the Welsh health service and Higher Education, will find Mr Drakeford’s decisions less amusing…
Tomorrow – our famous New Year caption competition.
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