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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 February, 2004, 16:21 GMT
Hutt apologises to Welsh minister
Kim Howells and Jane Hutt
Kim Howells and Jane Hutt have now arranged to meet

Health Minister Jane Hutt has apologised to a government minister who launched a scathing attack on her professionalism after he waited 10 weeks for a reply to a letter.

Pontypridd MP and UK transport minister Kim Howells said he wrote to Jane Hutt on behalf of a constituent but after waiting so long for a reply, he was finally fobbed off with a reply from her diary secretary and a refusal to set a date for a meeting.

In a barbed letter of complaint, Mr Howells said such behaviour did not suggest a professional approach and offered little encouragement to those who would like to contribute to the debate about how best to deliver improved health care provision in Wales.

Soon after BBC Wales got hold of a copy of the letter, Ms Hutt apologised, saying the delays in replying was "unacceptable" and agreed to meet with Mr Howells.

Such behaviour does not smack of a professional approach by your department and offers little encouragement to those of us, inside and outside of politics, who would like to contribute to the debate about how best to deliver improved health care provision in Wales
Kim Howells
According to an assembly guidance ministers are expected to respond to MPs within 15 working days.

Long NHS waiting lists mean the Welsh Assembly Government is often under attack, but criticisms from such close quarters are rare.

Mr Howells - who represents a constituency with a high proportion of former miners - originally contacted Ms Hutt's office over concerns about the availability of liquid oxygen therapy for those suffering from lung diseases.

In his letter of complaint, he wrote: "In the 15 years that I have served as an MP I have rarely, if ever, had to wait so long for a response from a minister of any description or any party.

"Never have I had to suffer the discourtesy of a reply on an important subject like this one, not from the minister, but from someone unknown signing it on behalf of the minister's diary secretary."

"Such behaviour does not smack of a professional approach by your department and offers little encouragement to those of us, inside and outside of politics, who would like to contribute to the debate about how best to deliver improved health care provision in Wales.

Mr Howells was also annoyed that Ms Hutt did not even choose to apologise in her response.

An assembly spokeswoman said that Ms Hutt had "apologised for the difficulties which had led to the unacceptable delay" in responding to Dr Howells.

She said Ms Hutt had explained to the Welsh MP that "positive actions" were being taken in Wales in relation to liquid oxygen therapy - the subject of the original letter.

Both politicians have agreed to meet as soon as possible.




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