The First Minister of the Welsh Labour Government – Carwyn Jones – has been cornered into giving a less-than-fulsome endorsement of Maria Battle, the beleaguered chair of the much-criticised Cardiff & Vale University Health Board.
As chair of the Health Board, Maria Battle, is in overall charge of running NHS Hospitals and GP services in Cardiff, Penarth, and across the Vale of Glamorgan.
On Monday the Cardiff & Vale Health Board, over which she presides, was castigated by the Auditor General for Wales Huw Vaughan Thomas in a searing report ; the most serious criticism he has ever made of a Welsh NHS organisation.
His report criticised the way in which the Health Board had hired a consultancy called RKC Associates Ltd to oversee its Human Resources and had later gone on – in questionable circumstances – to appoint that company’s sole director – Raj Chana – to the NHS staff .
The allegedly cash-strapped Cardiff and Vale Health Board offered Chana an NHS salary of £150,000 [that’s £10,000 a year more than the salary of Welsh Government First Minister Carwyn Jones].
The figure was so much higher than the official NHS pay-scale it had to be specially-approved by the Welsh Labour Government – and it was.
Yesterday the Conservative Leader in the National Assembly – Andrew R T Davies (Conservative South Wales Central) questioned First Minister Carwyn Jones about the excoriating report from the Wales Auditor General .
Andrew R T Davies revealed to the Assembly that the Health Board chair – Maria Battle – had personally participated in the hiring process which had appointed Raj Chana (full name Rajvinder Kaur Chana) as Cardiff and Vale Health Board’s Human Resources director.
He also noted that the Cardiff and Vale Health Board was under already under scrutiny as it “faces a huge financial deficit of £30,000,000 to £35,000,000 “.
Davies said that health board officials appeared to be blaming each other for appointing Raj Chana but “the one clear person who is involved here because she was on the selection panel when the final appointment was made is the Health Board chairman” [Maria Battle] “who was sitting on that selection”.
Andrew R T Davies then asked Carwyn Jones “Do you have confidence in the Health Board chairman ? “
The First Minister ducked that question about Ms Battle and just went on to say that the Cardiff and Vale Health Board was NOT actually in “special measures“. It was – he said – in “a KIND of special measures”.
Andrew R T Davies retorted ” I notice you didn’t give a vote of confidence to the chair of the Heath Board [ Maria Battle] and I offered you that opportunity.” He asked Carwyn Jones whether he understood how angry patients and members of the Health Board were when they saw an HR consultant being brought in on a salary of £1,000 a day – plus expenses of £26,000 over 18 months. The expenses alone – he said were more than would be paid in starting salary to a nurse.
First Minister Carwyn Jones could now no longer sidestep the question of his support – or otherwise – for Maria Battle and said “First of all I do have confidence in the chair” – [ a comment which seemed hardly a glowing testimonial for Ms Battle] and went on to say “secondly this matter is something which needs further investigation and Assembly Members will be told what the outcome of that investigation is. “
Listening to the exchange in the Senedd was The Welsh Labour Government Health Minister Vaughan Gething (Labour AM for Cardiff South and Penarth) . He has now been charged with carrying out an investigation to find out just what happened – and exactly who bears the responsiblity.