AN MP HAS labelled a health board's £60m overspend on a complex project to remove asbestos and refurbish a hospital "all too predictable".

Dr James Davies, MP for Vale of Clwyd, made the comment after Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB) was rapped by auditors for going almost 55 per cent over its original budget to £171m during the project.

The report by the Auditor General for Wales states the "very significant cost overrun" was avoidable.

Dr Davies said: "Sadly, this is all too predictable, and characteristic of the poor management which has blighted the health board during its five years in special measures.

“£60 million is a substantial amount of money which potentially could have funded many more worthy projects within the local NHS.

“Patients in North Wales who are unable to access services and treatments they desperately need will be furious at this news, and rightly so.

“The report states that the health board’s business case was poorly developed and weak, and what is particularly concerning is that the Welsh Government did not act on this when it was brought to their attention by their advisors.

“During the works, there were governance and management failings at the health board, along with misleading, amended and with held financial reporting."

Following two asbestos-related incidents in 2010, the need for action to strip asbestos from Ysbyty Glan Clwyd became urgent, driven by statutory improvement notices issued by the Health and Safety Executive.

In 2011, BCUHB applied to the Welsh Government for capital funding to remove the asbestos and refurbish the hospital and in 2012, the Welsh Government agreed funding of £110.4 million.

The process of stripping asbestos and removing some 300,000 tonnes of contaminated waste from the site of a ‘live’ working hospital was completed in 2019, a few months later than planned.

The project cost the Welsh Government £53.2 million more than the original agreed funding and BCUHB also provided a further £7.2 million from its own resources.

Rhyl Journal:

Glan Clwyd Hospital

Audit Wales found in their review that the Health and Safety Executive’s 2011 deadline to provide a plan to remove asbestos from the hospital created challenges for both the BCUHB and the Welsh Government.

They say weaknesses in the business cases were not fully addressed by the health board and the Welsh Government before the final business case was approved and significant deficiencies, in the health board’s governance and management of the project, were identified in 2014 when it became clear that the capital funding - provided by the Welsh Government - was insufficient to complete the project.

Audit Wales say both BCUHB and the Welsh Government have taken steps to strengthen their approaches to managing and approving capital projects.

Talking about the overspend, Darren Millar, Clwyd West MS, said: "This is absolutely appalling. We are not talking about thousands here, we are talking about tens of millions of pounds. That is a phenomenal amount of money and money that could have been much better spent elsewhere.

“How many hip, knee or shoulder replacement operations could £60,000,000 pay for? Or how many doctors or nurses? With many patients waiting over two years for treatment this cash could have put a huge dent in the unacceptable waiting lists in North Wales."

Mark Wilkinson, executive director of planning and performance, accepted the board had been “overly optimistic” about costing the “ambitious and complex” project.

He added: “The urgency at which we were required to begin construction work to meet the HSE’s requirements, as well as the nature of removing asbestos from a live working environment, resulted in costs which were unforeseen at the outset of the project.

“We took immediate actions in 2014 to strengthen the project governance and, following the commissioning of an external review, implemented revised governance and management structures and processes for all capital projects in 2015.

“As acknowledged in the report, the health board has learned lessons from this project, including strengthening governance arrangements both on this and all other capital projects in North Wales.”

Mr Wilkinson said independent analysis of 14 subsequent capital projects had “provided assurance that appropriate project governance and oversight are in place”.

He added: “The team behind the project can take pride in successfully delivering improved facilities and services while minimising disruption to a live hospital site.”

A Welsh Government spokeswoman said the work had “significantly enhanced the facilities for patients and staff” at the hospital.

She added: “The report recognises the programme was complex due to the hospital continuing to operate whilst the work was undertaken.

“It also notes improvements made by the health board and ourselves around the management of capital schemes.”

New facilities at Glan Clwyd Hospital, as a result of the project, include: state-of-the-art operating theatres and departments; a new emergency quarter; new wards and the refurbishment of existing ones; a new pathology department; a new critical care unit; refurbished x-ray and outpatient facilities and a new catering department.

Prior to the work being carried out, there had been a number of asbestos-related incidents at Glan Clwyd Hospital including: In January 2010, a water leak in the plant room on the roof of the ‘H block’ leaking through the floor, saturating the asbestos covering the steel work in the ceiling void below. Asbestos slurry leaked through the ceiling tiles between Ward 11 and Ward 12. Inspections also identified loose asbestos lying on top of ceiling tiles.

In November 2010, high winds caused movement in the suspended ceiling above the main theatres corridor. Damage occurred to the ceiling tiles and an inspection above ceiling level, by an asbestos specialist, revealed that the ceiling void was contaminated with asbestos debris and fibre levels in the ceiling void exceeded permitted limits.

Adrian Crompton, auditor general, said: "This report demonstrates the fundamental importance of good governance and robust oversight of complex capital projects. Whilst the complex refurbishment has been delivered largely on time, the very significant cost overrun might well have been avoided if concerns about the original business case had been properly addressed at the outset.

"The lessons learned by both the health board and the Welsh Government from this project are of relevance to all Welsh public bodies engaged in major capital programmes."