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Former First Minister honoured as one of the “Covid heroes”

From left, Lesley Griffiths, the Senedd Member for Wrexham, who is also the Cabinet Secretary for Culture and Social Justice; Mario Kreft MBE, chair of Care Forum Wales, former First Minister Mark Drakeford; Julie Morgan MS, the former Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services and singer and presenter Wynne Evans. Credit: Patrick Olner

The former First Minister has been honoured for the “reassuring way” he led Wales through the dark days of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mark Drakeford was presented with a 2024 Wales Care Award, at a celebration at the Senedd in Cardiff to mark the 30th anniversary of Care Forum Wales, which represents more than 450 care homes, nursing homes and other social care providers.

The Special Recognition award was given to the former First Minister by Mario Kreft MBE, the chair of Care Forum Wales, who hailed Professor Drakeford as a man of “great integrity and intellect”.

According to Mr Kreft, the pandemic had been the worst possible nightmare for the social care sector because the virus was particularly dangerous to frail and vulnerable people.

ario Kreft MBE, the chair of Care Forum Wales, presenting former First Minister Mark Drakeford with a Wales Care Award
Award presentation. Credit: Patrick Olner

Through the First Minister’s leadership, Wales had adopted a distinctively more considered and cautious approach.

He had recognised the particular challenges faced by social care even before the pandemic struck, describing the sector as being economically “fragile”.

As a result, the financial support given to care homes, nursing homes and domiciliary care providers in Wales during Covid had been much better than in other parts of the UK.

Since then he had championed the introduction of the Real Living Wage for the frontline staff who had risen magnificently the unprecedented challenges posed by the pandemic, often putting their own lives on the line.

Mr Kreft said: “Mark Drakeford has been a long term supporter of the sector, right back to the early days of devolution when he was a Special Advisor to the then First Minister, Rhodri Morgan.

“As a former Professor of Social Policy and Applied Social Sciences at Cardiff University, he was uniquely well qualified to understand the challenges facing the sector when he was elected to represent Cardiff West and later serve in a number of ministerial positions, including health and local government,  before becoming the leader of our nation in 2018.

“That understanding and empathy was absolutely crucial when the world was turned upside down by Covid-19 and his leadership was a shining light that plotted a reassuringly cautious path through the dark days of the pandemic.

“One thing that made a big difference was that the Welsh Government led by Mark Drakeford sought input and guidance from the sector.

“We had regular dialogue including weekly meetings with the Ministers of Health and Social Services so the level of access we had with the decision makers was far greater than any other part of the UK.

“There was always a sense that the First Minister was striving to do the right things, in the right way at the right time, with his avuncular style underpinned by a steely determination.

“He consistently ensured that the social care sector had the necessary level of support to stay financially afloat as the virus swept through Wales.

“While he was First Minister, we’ve also had the Real Living Wage paid to care workers, which is another thing we have been campaigning for at Care Forum Wales.

“Importantly, he always recognised that social care has provided a scaffold to support the NHS without which it would be unable to function.

“I feel certain that history will treat him kindly and he will be remembered as one of the heroes of Covid.

Mr Kreft added it was also a very important day in the history of Care Forum Wales because the 30th anniversary was an opportunity to recognise the organisation’s achievements in supporting members to provide high quality social care and dignity for all.

He said: ”We share best practice and resources, we work to influence policy makers and we keep members up to date on legislation as well as providing training for our members and hosting the annual Wales Care Awards.

“We provide the sector with a single, professional voice with which to speak on social care policy and the collective clout to campaign for fair, realistic and sustainable fees for providers.”

According to Mr Drakeford, he was very grateful to receive such a special award.

He said: “From the point of view of government can I say how important it is to have an authoritative body that speaks on behalf of a sector, especially a sector in Wales that is so varied, has so many components in it and can sometimes be quite hard to hear the messages that the sector would want to convey.

“It’s why we have always been so lucky in Wales to have Care Forum because it has the authority to speak to government on behalf of those things that concern the people who work in the sector, that matter to the people they look after.

“That’s why Care Forum has always been such a central partner for us in the work we try to do. For that we are incredibly grateful here in the Senedd.”

The reception was sponsored by Lesley Griffiths, the Senedd Member for Wrexham, who is also the Cabinet Secretary for Culture and Social Justice.

She said: “For 30 years, Care Forum Wales has championed the social care sector, offering a voice to its members whose primary role is to look after some of the most vulnerable people in society.

 “I am proud to have sponsored this very special event in the Senedd and I’m pleased Mark’s outstanding, compassionate and selfless leadership, particularly during such difficult times, has been recognised.”