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Local health boards placed in escalation status

The Welsh Government has announced that all seven health boards are now in some form of escalation status amid concerns about the extreme financial challenges they are facing.

The debate on 13 September in the Plenary Senedd highlighted this situation. The Health Minister, Baroness Eluned Morgan MS, said the Government was wrestling with a projected deficit of £900 million, which means there is no latitude for bailing out local health boards. Baroness Morgan elaborated on the pressures the NHS is facing including an increasing demand on services and an aging population. She also highlighted that 60% of the population are overweight or obese.

The minister reminded the chamber of the six key priorities previously laid out that health boards need to focus on, including access to dentistry, but reinforced the health boards’ independence in determining the relative spending.

Mark Drakeford MS, First Minister of Wales, said in the Plenary on 12 September that “… the Welsh Government is not making any requests of the health boards to cut down on the budgets that were made available to them … We are having to ask boards to reduce the level of over-expenditure that they have been predicting this year…” He went on to blame the UK Government, rampant inflation, and the effects of energy costs as the main factors causing the fiscal situation.

A recent report by Audit Wales showed the health boards had recorded a collective deficit of £151.9 million in the last financial year of 2022/2023. Now in this financial year, Betsi Cadwaladr UHB alone is predicting a shortfall of £134 million. The projection for the collective deficit for all seven health boards this financial year is going to be considerably greater at around £800 million.

Health Boards now have the challenge of prioritising some services while cutting others. In July, Mr Drakeford announced plans to axe the Government’s programme extending free school meals to the poorest children during the holidays, leaving parents in the lurch with little notice. Wales is the poorest country in the UK, with the highest rates of poverty and low pay. Almost a third of Welsh children live in poverty. For now, the Government is on track to fund free school meals in term-time only for all primary school children by 2024.

Welsh General Dental Practice Committee representatives are meeting with Welsh government officials next week regarding the GDS uplift for the current financial year following Doctors’ and Dentists' Review Body recommendations. In the summer, the BMA rejected the Welsh government’s final offer of a 5% pay award for salaried doctors, and recently announced it is balloting members in Wales about industrial action. We will continue to fight for fair pay and keep you up to date on any further developments over the coming weeks.