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Trust between AMs and Board plummets

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Smirking: Vaughan Gething (front) as Adam Price protests at cheap shot

LOCAL AMs have expressed strong reservations about the confidentiality and security of their communications with Hywel Dda UHB.

Their concerns have been sparked after bitter recriminations following First Minister’s Questions on Tuesday, January 30 (see our News section), when information regarding communications between the Board and Adam Price AM were used by First Minister Carwyn Jones in a clumsy attempt to smear the Carmarthen East and Dinefwr representative. That information had been provided to the First Minister by the Health Board.

The Herald understands that following communications between the Board and Mr Price’s office on Tuesday afternoon, the Health Board’s Chief Executive, Steve Moore, met with Mr Price at the Senedd building in Cardiff where an explanation was sought for the disclosure of communications information to the Welsh Government.

At that meeting, Mr Moore was confronted with evidence of communications between the AMs office and the Board in which meetings had been requested.

That information either was not provided to the Welsh Government or the First Minister has been caught out playing fast and loose with the truth.

A spokesperson for Shadow Health Secretary Angela Burns told The Herald: ​”​In light of the concerns raised in Tuesday’s First Minister’s Questions Angela has written formally to both the Health Board and the Welsh Government seeking assurances over the use of her communications.

​”​She is very conscious of the confidentiality of patient data and considers there to be a principle at stake in this matter​.”​

Meanwhile, Simon Thomas AM expressed his concerns in questions to the Leader of the Assembly, Julie James AM on Tuesday.

Amid barracking from Labour AMs, who regard the use of information held on others by public bodies with an equanimity they do share when it comes to their own communications, Mr Thomas said that he had serious concerns on joining a proposed cross party group to discuss a transformation agenda with the Health Board: “I have serious concerns now to join any such group, knowing that what I say, and what I e-mail them, will be revealed to the First Minister, and will then be used as political attacks on me in this Chamber.”

The Plaid AM, continued: “Is there a protocol regarding the way health boards deal with Assembly Members looking at serious reconfigurations of hospital services in their area? If such a protocol does not exist, will the Minister—the Cabinet Secretary concerned—ensure that such a protocol is in place, because, without such a protocol in place, I do not feel I can engage with Hywel Dda?”

Mr Thomas’s disquiet echoed that of Elin Jones, the Assembly Presiding Officer and Ceredigion AM, who commented from the chair earlier in the day that she would not want information of communications between the Health Board disclosed or used in such a way.

As it stands, Adam Price and his Westminster colleague Jonathan Edwards are in talks with lawyers regarding the Health Board’s conduct.

Legal advice sought by the Plaid Cymru AM notes that the health board is may have breached Mr Price’s data protection rights, and those of his parliamentary colleague, Jonathan Edwards MP.

Speaking after the exchange, Adam Price AM said: “The First Minister’s actions during today’s questions session bring his office and his Government into disrepute. His comments in the Chamber today are factually incorrect, and the First Minister has therefore misled the Assembly.

“It wasn’t that long ago a Welsh Government Minister was sacked for trying to access information that could have been used for political purposes to discredit political opponents. On the face of today’s exchange it would appear the First Minister and/or his team have tried to do the same thing. This is clearly a breach of both the Civil Service and Ministerial Code.”

Mr Price continued: “The legal advice I have been given notes that Hywel Dda Health Board is potentially in breach of the data protection rights granted to myself, my parliamentary colleague Jonathan Edwards, and our staff members.

“At my request, the Chief Executive of the Health Board came to Assembly to meet with me this evening in which I presented evidence of correspondence between our offices and my requests to meet with him.

“In an endeavour to restore trust I am sure the Health Board will now wish to correct the record.”

Adam Price’s parliamentary colleague, Jonathan Edwards MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr added: “This is the latest reminder that there is something rotten at the core of this Labour Welsh Government.

“Either they are soliciting information from a independent health board for political purposes, or the health board has been compromised in a manner which sees it comfortable referencing correspondence between elected representatives.

“The First Minister’s claims that Adam Price and I ignored Health Board requests for are meeting are manifestly untrue and we have written evidence to prove that.”

The Herald asked the Board whether it had provided details of communications between it and other AMs to the Welsh Government.

At the time of writing, the Board has failed to answer either that enquiry or a request for a statement from its Chief Executive explaining the Board’s role in feeding – possibly selective – information to the Welsh Government.

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Politics

Ben Lake MP supports campaign to close deadly cancer gap

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Ben Lake MP is backing calls from the Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce (LSCT) to end a vicious cycle which has seen survivability stagnate amongst the six deadliest cancers over the last decade.

Ben Lake MP met charity members of the LSCT in the House of Commons on 4 February to coincide with World Cancer Day.

The LSCT represents six ‘less survivable cancers’, lung, liver, brain, oesophageal, pancreatic and stomach, with an average five year survival rate of 14% due to a legacy of neglect and underfunding. The Taskforce aims to double the survivability of these cancers to 28% by 2029.

At the event, Ben Lake met with cancer specialists and patients with first-hand experience of these ‘less survivable cancers’. They learnt about the critical situation for people diagnosed with these cancers and the urgent need for a step change in targeted investment in research in order to make much-needed diagnosis and treatment breakthroughs.

Ben Lake MP attended the event and said: “I am pleased to speak out for the less survivable cancers this World Cancer Day. We have made incredible steps in treatment and prognosis for many cancers and we now need targeted action to close the deadly cancer gap for these less survivable cancers”.

Anna Jewell, Chair of the Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce added:

“We are delighted that Ben Lake MP shares our concerns about the stark inequalities in cancer outcomes.

“There are some cancers which have seen remarkable progress in survivability but others that are just as deadly as they were decades ago. Together, these ‘less survivable cancers’ make up half of all common cancer deaths in the UK.

“Today we are calling on the UK governments to commit to doubling survival rates from 14% to 28% by 2029 and I’d like to thank Ben Lake MP for supporting our campaign to close the deadly cancer gap.”

The LSCT includes Action Against Heartburn, the British Liver Trust, Guts UK, Pancreatic Cancer UK, The Brain Tumour Charity and the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation.

Sarah Lindsell, Chief Executive of The Brain Tumour Charity, added:”Every year, thousands of people diagnosed with a less-survivable cancer, including those with brain cancer, are denied even the hope of a cure. Many are told they have only months to live. That has to change.

“We need more research and a committed drive towards improving survival for these cancers, so that fewer lives are cut brutally short and fewer families are left devastated by loss.”

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Politics

Ceredigion councillors to consider 4% increase in council tax

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COUNTY councillors in Ceredigion will be asked to consider a 4% increase in the Council tax rate when they meet on 5 March 2020.

They will consider the rate after Ceredigion County Council’s Cabinet recommended the increase to ensure that there are no further cuts to council services in the next financial year.

The proposed increase would mean that an average Band D property in Ceredigion would pay £1,364.82 of council tax annually, an increase of approximately £1 per week.

Councillor Ellen ap Gwynn is the Leader of the Council. She said: “We are proposing to the Council that the Council tax rate is increased at a similar level as our government funding has increased. This means that all Council services would be protected from further cuts during next year. The increase would meet the increased demands placed on social care budgets which we cannot avoid.”

The overall Council tax rate increase will be set by three key components, the County Council’s tax, the precept of Town and Community Councils and the Police precept. Increases set by the Police and Town and Community Councils result in a combined increase yet to be calculated.

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Elin Jones congratulates Ceredigion Talking Paper in National Assembly

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AM marks 50 years of service by local news service for the blind

Elin Jones AM has congratulated the Ceredigion Talking Newspaper in a statement in the National Assembly for Wales, marking 50 years of service to blind people in Ceredigion and beyond.

In her statement on Wednesday the 20th of January, Elin Jones said:

“Fifty years ago, in January 1970, an innovative charity was established in Ceredigion for blind people, offering the first service of its kind in Wales and the United Kingdom – a service that would enable the blind people of Ceredigion to hear the latest local news in the press.

“That innovative scheme was the Ceredigion Talking Newspaper.

“The talking newspaper was set up by Ronald Sturt, a lecturer at the College of Librarianship in Llanbadarn. Initially, the recordings of local voices reading articles from the local press were on tape cassettes and provided to 18 people.

“Nowadays, the recordings are on a USB, and there are over a hundred regular listeners of the talking newspaper and more than 60 volunteers contributing regularly. The recordings are published weekly and the coverage includes the Cambrian News, Golwg and Y Cymro.

“One reader, Eileen Sinnett, has volunteered continuously for fifty years. What a contribution she has made!

“I would like to congratulate the Ceredigion Talking Newspaper for breaking new ground in 1970, for 50 years of service and for bringing the news, in both Welsh and English, to those who cannot see or read it in Ceredigion and beyond.”

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