Concerns have been raised over the decision of a health board’s charity arm to sponsor the Cardiff Blues rugby team in return for being allowed to collect donations from fans on match days.
Welsh Conservative Assembly Opposition leader Andrew RT Davies said it was a “shocking indictment” of Labour’s underfunding of the NHS that such a deal was happening.
But Cardiff and Vale University Health Board defended the move, saying it was wholly in line with other fund-raising schemes in NHS Wales.
A manager in the charity sector contacted WalesOnline to say they had recently attended a conference addressed by Maria Battle, who chairs the health board.
The health board manager told us: “I found it strange that there are plans to send people with collection tins to rugby matches to raise funds for health services.
“Maria Battle said Cardiff and Vale was entering a sponsorship agreement with Cardiff Blues for next season. They will sponsor the club in return for getting access to some of their corporate supporters and the ability to collect funds at their games.
“She said the health board gets left legacies and gifts by patients, and this money was used currently for new services. They are planning to grow this income stream through the Cardiff Blues partnership.
“I’ve never heard of anything like this before – the NHS asking for donations at sports events to pay for its services.”
Mr Davies, who represents South Wales Central, said: “It is a shocking indictment of Labour’s underfunding of the Welsh NHS if local health boards are now reduced to collecting money in buckets at sporting events to pay for essential NHS services.
“Welsh Labour Ministers have made record-breaking cuts of £800m in real terms over five years to the Welsh NHS, and health boards are being forced to cut services, cancel operations and even consider extreme alternatives to make up their budget shortfall.
“Given that this health board has just been condemned for letting patients die waiting for treatment, health board bosses should have other priorities than chasing the corporate gravy train.
“Cardiff and Vale University Health Board and Labour’s Health Minister need to come clean on exactly how much of their NHS budget will be spent sponsoring Cardiff Blues instead of paying for doctors, nurses and frontline care.
“We need to hear how health board executives are so confident that income from sporting donations will be higher than the cost of sponsoring Cardiff Blues and that this does not amount to playing roulette with NHS money.”
Chair of Cardiff and Vale University Health Board and of the Trustees of the Cardiff and Vale Health Charity Maria Battle said: “As is common across NHS Wales, the Cardiff and Vale Health Charity supports projects that benefit our patients and staff. In many cases, money raised comes from the generosity and kindness of patients, their families or their estate. We are really grateful for their long-standing and ongoing support.
“The Health Charity brings extra value and support over and above NHS core services. For example, the Saturday Club provides respite care for children with complex disabilities. They received sensory equipment, from ball pools, fluorescent mirrors and finger painting kit to help the children to play while their families rest. Charitable funds were used to furnish the beach themed room in the Older People’s Mental Health unit, which provides a calm environment for dementia patients to reminisce.
“As in any charity, our trustees are committed to looking at all options to increase the money it can raise to support our appeals. This partnership with the Cardiff Blues is a great opportunity for the Health Charity to increase our visibility and fundraising opportunities which will benefit the people that we serve.”
A spokesman for Cardiff Blues said: “We are entering into a partnership with Cardiff and Vale Health Charity, which is a body independent of Cardiff and Vale Health Board.
“The partnership will allow Cardiff and Vale Health Charity to publicise and gain support for their innovative, research, work and care provision which is outside and over and above the core services which the University Health Board provide.
“Areas which are planned to benefit from this additional funding are those such as the Breast Centre Appeal which aims to provide a training and holistic therapy unit, the Better Life Appeal which helps adult Cystic Fibrosis patients through improved facilities, the Asset Appeal which helps stroke patients across Cardiff and Vale and the Prop Appeal which supports patients in their Neurosciences Specialist Rehabilitation Centre.
“Cardiff Blues have a number of high profile players, such as Lions heroes Leigh Halfpenny and Sam Warburton, who will be supporting the work of the charity, and the charity is delighted to have the opportunity to have their help and assistance in raising funds.
“The charity will be able to publicise these initiatives through adverts on the Cardiff Blues website, advertising boards at the Arms Park and through our social media channels, which is a very cost effective way of advertising the charity’s work and the sort of venture which has proved to be hugely beneficial to other charities in the health provision field.”