Yesterday morning, a special meeting of Ceredigion County Council was held to meet with the Chief Executive and senior officers of Hywel Dda's Local Health Board. The meeting had been called after Cllr Elizabeth Evans from Aberaeron and I proposed and seconded a motion back in November, requesting this very meeting as I blogged about at the time here.
The request to meet with Chief Executive Mr Trevor Purt and his officers came with the backdrop of a fierce public reaction to the proposed changes that the Hywel Dda LHB are seeking to implement at Bronglais Hospital in Aberystwyth. It also gave Councillors the opportunity to quiz this most illusive of individuals on health projects in Aberaeron, Tregaron and Cardigan (please read my next blog post, Part II for updates on Cardigan Hospital).
The long wait to speak...
The meeting was due to begin at 9.30am and had been designated to run until 11.30am when an Economic Development Scrutiny Committee meeting was due to start.
The Hywel Dda LHB began with an hour long presentation and it wasn't much before 10.45am before Councillors could begin asking their questions. An hour an been set aside for a Q&A but it soon transpired that that clearly wouldn't be enough. In 8 years on the Council, I'm not sure if I've ever seen anything quite like it. I thought that I'd put my hand up to grab the Chair's attention early enough but sure enough, many of my colleagues had clearly beaten me to the early punch.
Having scribbed a number of notes down during the presentation, I found myself waiting...and waiting...and waiting to be called to speak. Normally, there isn't that much of a wait to be called but yesterday, more Councillors requested to speak in a single debate than possibly any other that I can recall since my election to the Council in 2004 - a clear demonstration of the strength of feeling on the matter held by those of all sides of the political divide on this issue.
I began to increasingly wonder whether the Chair Cllr Catherine Hughes had in fact seen me gesture to her earlier in the meeting when finally, after over 2 hours of questions from the floor and answers from Mr Purt and his colleagues, I was called.
"A PR Disaster"
Much of what I was going to say and been touched upon by those who had spoken previously but I had waited long and patiently for my moment, and I was not going to let those scribbled down and almost illegible notes go to waste.
Usually, I sit down when giving speeches in the Chamber. On rare occasion to I stand when I have my say. There are Councillors meanwhile who are to the contrary. It's clear that Beulah's Cllr Lyndon Lloyd is a lay preacher in his spare time as the overwhelming majority of his speeches (or sould I say orations?! But I must admit to secretly enjoying them as he often peppers them with historical facts and anecdotes which as a historian, I'm bound to lap up!) during these past 8 years are made from standing. But he is a relatively rare exception - very few Councillors have been known to do so. Only the leader, Llandysul's Cllr Keith Evans and Llanfarian's Cllr Alun Lloyd Williams to my recollection ever make a concerted habit of doing it.
Well yesterday was different. My colleagues Cllr Elizabeth Evans from Aberaeron and Aberystwyth Central Councillor Ceredig Davies both stood for their interventions and I was in the mood to follow suite. It was as such that I re-iterated to Mr Purt and the Hywel Dda executives in front of me that they could not expect a 'dialgoue' (their word) with the public if they weren't in the room. They refused to turn up at a public meeting in Tregaron before Christmas which I attended after community beds in Tregaron Hospital were cut without public consultation. They then refused to attend last week's public meeting in Aberystwyth which was successfully organised by the Town Council and in which over 500 local residents attended.
I stated that the Hywel Dda LHB were creating a vicious cycle in which they were feeding the increasing lack of faith of local residents in the Health Board by refusing to attend public meetings to give their answers to the many concerns raised. It was as I called it from their point of you, a "PR disaster".
After I spoke, Cllr Gareth Lloyd from the Llandisiliogogo ward backed up my comments and continued in the same vein. Though I'd had to wait, there was a longer wait for others as the meeting continued for another hour until 2pm.
By my count, 34 of the 42 Councillors were present at the meeting. During the 3 hour Q&A session (a 4+ hour meeting in total), some 22 of those 34 Councillors spoke in the debate. That's over half of the entire Council requesting to and speaking on a single topic. It was well planned that this was a one-topic meeting but still, I can't recall in 8 years a debate in which so many Councillors requested to speak.
Did Trevor Purt and his team of ten really listen to the concerns raised yesterday? Only time will tell. Did I feel a quiet satisfaction in getting that anger and frustration off my chest? You bet!
In my next blog post, I'll comment specifically on my comments on and Mr Purt's response to the Cardigan Hospital development...