Concern as three Wales health boards £60m in red

Money and a doctor Extra money will not be given to boards to balance the books in future, says the health minister

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Serious concerns have been raised by the auditor general over the finances of the NHS in Wales after three health boards plunged £60m into the red.

Cardiff and Vale, Hywel Dda, and Powys Teaching health boards each overspent by almost £20m by April 2014.

In the past the Welsh government has given cash help but warned it will no longer do so.

Shadow Health Minister Darren Millar said it was an "unprecedented embarrassment".

But Health Minister Mark Drakeford said he was confident that two of the boards in the red had recovery plans.

"Cardiff and Vale University Health Board has a robust and approved plan going forward and the Welsh government is continuing to work with Hywel Dda University Health Board to ensure they develop robust plans to improve service and financial planning for the future," he added.

Mr Drakeford reiterated the warning that as part of new arrangements - whereby health boards set budgets over a three-year period - he would not bail out those continuing to incur deficits.


So what does the auditor general's report tell us?

Public bodies are not, officially, allowed to overspend, so what they got today was the equivalent of a big thumbs down from the auditor.

It is symbolic more than anything, it does not mean hospitals in those health boards will grind to a halt, neither does it mean there will not be any money to pay staff, but it does mean there will be even more pressure on those boards to tighten their belts.

The Welsh government said it was confident that will happen with Cardiff and Vale, and it was working with Hywel DDa to develop its recovery plan.

But there is a bigger question mark about Powys.

Because of the board's geography and that it spends a lot of its money commissioning services from hospitals across the border, there might have to be a fundamental reassessment of how it is funded.

The government has approved the three-year financial plans of three boards but four others are waiting for sign-off.

There are concerns from opposition parties and others the three-year cycle risks giving boards the freedom to amass even bigger deficits.

So it is hard not to conclude that in letting three health boards face the wrath of the auditor the minister was sending out a warning to all boards that they should not expect a financial lifeline come what may.

Meanwhile, the auditor general found that four health boards - Aneurin Bevan, Betsi Cadwaldr, Hywel Dda and Powys - have not yet had their three-year budget plans approved.

A spokesman for the Powys board said it had made significant savings over the last few years and would continue to do so.

"We will continue to work with the Welsh government to find a long-term sustainable solution to our financial pressures while continuing to meet the health needs of the population of Powys," he added.

Cardiff and Vale's director of finance Charlotte Moar said she was "buoyed" that the government had agreed to their three-year financial plan.

"A great deal of work has gone into developing our three year plan which is driven by improving patient care but also in finding better, innovative, more efficient ways of working," she added.

"Some of those ideas take investment at the start to get them off the ground but the benefits will be many, which is why we are confident in our plans for the coming years."

Hywel Dda health board said: "We remain committed to ensuring safe, high quality services within our available funding and using all our resources as effectively as possible."

Conservative Darren Millar said: "This is an unprecedented embarrassment to Carwyn Jones' Labour government and lays bare the scale of Welsh Labour's record-breaking NHS cuts.

"It provides clear evidence that in spite of multi-million pound in year bailouts, Ministers have not provided the Welsh health service with the cash it needs to deliver the services that patients require."

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