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Last Updated: Monday, 10 January 2005, 19:25 GMT
Hutt's turbulent five NHS years
Jane Hutt
Waiting lists dominated many headlines during Jane Hutt's tenure
Jane Hutt's five-and-a-half-year reign as Welsh health minister was marked by persistent criticism of perceived failures in her stewardship.

She was the assembly's first health minister and from the start, the job presented a serious challenge.

She took the reins of a service in 1999 with a 72m debt and a structure which was "20-30 years out of date", according to health experts.

Within three months, she welcomed plans to cut mid Wales beds and save 1.5m.

By November she was unveiling proposals for 100m rise in funding for health authorities - but put opposition parties' backs up by doing so at a press briefing rather than in the assembly chamber.

Her response to a winter beds crisis in Welsh hospitals caused by a flu outbreak was to set up a task force in January 2000 to investigate, but Plaid Cymru said action was needed then, not in six months.

Good news days
National Service Framework for Children, Young People and Maternity Services - setting Wales-wide standards for services
200m spending increase on NHS buildings
8,700 extra healthcare workers promised over eight years
Free prescriptions for under-25s - extended to all by 2007

In the summer, she pledged an extra 40m to prevent a repeat of the situation the following winter, but it did not stop the issue returning to the headlines early in 2001.

Ms Hutt introduced the start of a "10-year-plan" for the NHS in Wales by announcing the scrapping of the five health authorities, to be replaced by 22 local health boards.

Two years into the job, she survived a censure motion by the Conservatives for failing to meet her own targets on waiting times.

Promise

Waiting lists - in cardiac surgery, orthopaedics and most recently mammograms to detect breast cancer - continued to dominate health headlines during Ms Hutt's time in office.

A promise in July 2002 that nobody should wait longer than 18 months for orthopaedic surgery in Wales was broken in just two months.

Ms Hutt said she "regretted" the fact that the assembly was likely to miss Labour's manifesto pledges on cutting waiting lists after figures showed people in Wales were waiting longer for operations in January 2003.

Kim Howells MP
Kim Howells made a direct attack on Jane Hutt

There was no better news by the summer, as waiting times continued to rise.

The health minister may have become inured to barbs from the opposition as part of the job, but was forced to dodge flak from an unexpected quarter in the form of a high-profile member of her own party.

Pontypridd Labour MP Dr Kim Howells called into question her professionalism and her record on the Welsh NHS after failing to respond to a query he made on behalf of a constituent, and then had a diary secretary reply to a subsequent letter.

She apologised to Dr Howells and to set up a meeting with him to discuss his original query.

By last summer, health experts were warning of "patience running out" with the difference in Welsh and English waiting times.

In September, Cardiff Central's Jon Owen Jones become the second Labour MP to turn on Ms Hutt after learning constituent Theresa Debono had been told she would wait 17 weeks for a mammogram to detect breast cancer.

Jon Owen Jones said Ms Hutt's reply was "inadequate and complacent" and questioned how the service could be in such a poor shape after four years of an "unprecedented increase" in NHS funding.

There was further embarrassment for Ms Hutt in October after her cabinet colleague, the environment minister Carwyn Jones, criticised a new out-of-hours health service after his son fell ill.

The Primecare service had received a number of complaints within weeks of it starting in October.

Further promises on waiting times were to be one of the last announcements made Ms Hutt - a cut of six months to 12 for an outpatient appointment at hospitals by March 2006.

With her demise as health secretary, that may be one promise which her successor, Dr Brian Gibbons, will be expected to uphold.


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