Wales politics

Health Minister Mark Drakeford's hospital revamp commitment

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Media captionMark Drakeford says he wants to see the controversial hospital reorganisation through to its conclusion

Wales' new health minister says he wants to see a controversial hospital reorganisation which has attracted huge opposition through to its conclusion.

Mark Drakeford outlined his priorities as he was sworn into the job on Monday.

His predecessor Lesley Griffiths came under strong pressure over plans by local health boards to close hospitals and move services in a major shake-up.

But Mr Drakeford said people would live with the changes once there was "certainty".

The Welsh government has insisted changes are needed to make the NHS safe and sustainable.

Decisions promised

Mr Drakeford, appointed in a surprise cabinet reshuffle last week, said: "My aim is to bring the process to a conclusion.

"I think people now need to know what the end of this is going to be.

"Not everybody will be happy, I'm sure, with where the final decisions lie, I completely understand that.

"But I want to be able to give them certainty and once there is certainty then I think people will live with that, adapt to that and get on with the job."

The proposals to reorganise how health services are delivered have attracted major criticism in some communities, leading to demonstrations.

In north Wales, it includes plans to close four community hospitals and transfer care for the most sick and premature babies across the border to England.

Parts of the shake-up in north Wales have been referred to the Welsh government by the local health watchdog, with campaigners saying this had "blown huge holes" in the health proposals.

First Minister Carwyn Jones said he would personally decide whether to "call in" the decision over specialist care for sick babies.

Image caption Campaigners have protested against closing the minor injuries unit in Tenby

It has been a similar story in mid and west Wales where some of Hywel Dda health board's proposals have met strong resistance.

Among the changes proposed are closing a special care baby unit at Withybush Hospital in Haverfordwest, and shutting two minor injuries units at Tenby and South Pembrokeshire plus a community hospital in Tumble.

Hywel Dda Community Health Council (CHC) - the patients' watchdog for the region - said an initial request to refer the health changes to the then health minister Ms Griffiths for a decision was rejected.

Ms Griffiths called on the CHC to conduct more negotiations with the health board before asking for intervention from the Welsh government.

But the watchdog says the three week deadline for fresh talks is too soon, especially as it includes the Easter holiday.

'Difficult times'

At a press conference the first minister denied Mr Drakeford's predecessor had failed to sell the changes.

He said: "These are difficult times in terms of health, we know that. People always want to have services delivered as locally as possible.

"The difficulty is of course ensuring those services are safe and sustainable.

"As far as ministers are concerned I'm very confident that I have a strong team. It's important from time to time that people are given new challenges."

He added: "As far as health is concerned there can be no change of direction. We know that we need a safe and sustainable health service in future."

He said there would be another reshuffle before the next election in 2016, at which point he would bring fresh blood in to the government.

Nobody was dropped from the cabinet last week and, apart from Mr Drakeford, the only other promotion to the top table was Alun Davies.

Mr Davies was sworn in on Monday as the new minister for natural resources and food. He was previously the deputy minister for agriculture.

Ms Griffiths was moved to the local government brief in the most notable change of Mr Jones' reshuffle.

She carried out her first official engagement in the new job on Monday launching a scheme in Newport to help improve the response from agencies to children who go missing.

Mr Drakeford said the shake-up of hospital services was one of three top priorities, along with taking legislation through the assembly and getting to grips with the financial pressures on the NHS.

He will take charge of a bill to change the law on organ donation and introduce a system of presumed consent.

The assembly's cross-party health committee, which Mr Drakeford chaired until his promotion to the cabinet, has just finished looking at the bill and has produced a report that he will have to respond as the minister.

"I am expecting that it will raise some important questions and issues that need to be resolved, but that's the whole point of having a scrutiny process about legislation," he told BBC Wales.

He said his predecessor had made it clear that NHS organisations had "a fixed budget to live within and they are expected to deliver services within it".

With days to go before the next financial year starts in April, he said he would want to "learn the lessons for next year".

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