It is reasonable to observe that the history of the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB), the body responsible for the delivery of healthcare in North Wales, has been an unhappy one.
Most elected representatives in the region spend a considerable part of their time dealing with complaints about the Board, which has had no fewer than seven Chief Executives in a period of 13 years.
BCUHB was recently once again placed in special measures by the Welsh Government, having emerged from a similar period of supervision only in November, 2020. It has, sadly, become a byword for bad management, with its clinical and nursing staff, to say nothing of its patients, wondering whether it will ever improve.
Bad management, however, is one thing. Dishonesty is another.
A few months ago, the independent members of the Board, chaired by the highly respected former Chief Constable of North Wales, Mark Polin, became so concerned about BCUHB’s financial direction that they commissioned Ernst & Young (EY) to produce a forensic report on its accounts.
The report, shockingly, reveals a pattern of deliberate deception on the part of senior executives, who are shown to have entered into what can only be called a conspiracy to falsify accounts.
Items of capital expenditure were designated as revenue, documentation was altered and spending due in a subsequent year was recorded as payable in a previous one.
The report is damning and devastating. It exposes a culture of dishonesty among executives at the very top of BCUHB. Astonishingly, however, none of those executives has resigned, been suspended or sacked.
Equally astonishing has been the response of the Welsh Government. Rather than calling for the suspension of the executives, the Welsh health minister, Eluned Morgan, demanded the resignation of the independent Board members – the very individuals whose actions resulted in the exposure of wrongdoing at the Board. All those independent members are highly respectable individuals, who are understandably appalled at the shabby treatment they have received.
This is an intolerable state of affairs. It is deeply damaging to the reputation of the Board and the many decent and conscientious professionals who work for it. It is also shaking the already fragile faith of patients across North Wales in their local NHS.
The Board now has an new acting Chief Executive, who has the opportunity to make a start on putting things right. She should do so by suspending all the executives named in the EY report pending a full internal inquiry into their conduct. She should also invite the police to commence an investigation into what appears to be a pattern of criminal conduct. That investigation should consider whether offences of false accounting, forgery and misconduct in public office have been committed.
Finally, Mark Drakeford, the Welsh First Minister, should reflect on the actions of his administration in scapegoating the very people who uncovered the murky misconduct at the top of BCUHB and offer a full and sincere apology to the dismissed independent Board members.
Only then can we start to rebuild trust in an institution that provides such a vital service to all of us in North Wales.