Concerns raised about response to scandal-hit maternity services
Chris Haines, ICNN Senedd reporter
An investigation into scandal-hit maternity services was ordered due to pressure from families and the press rather than the failures themselves, the Senedd has heard.
Mabon ap Gwynfor said public outcry led to announcements of an independent review and Welsh Government intervention in Swansea Bay health board’s maternity services.
Plaid Cymru’s shadow health minister raised concerns about a health board statement, which said the review was commissioned because of sustained public scrutiny.
The Welsh Government announced enhanced monitoring of services on the same day.
He told the Senedd: “What’s exacerbating about this is that the review isn’t held because of failures in maternity services but because of public scrutiny.
“The same seems to be the case with the health minister’s announcement today.
“The services have been placed in escalated measures because of public scrutiny and media attention – not because of failures.”
Russell George, the Conservatives’ shadow minister, agreed, saying: “Ultimately, this has only come about as a result of pressure from families, media and questions in the chamber.”
He questioned why it had taken so long for the Welsh Government to introduce enhanced monitoring of services after about 300 incidents in recent years.
Eluned Morgan said: “We haven’t been pushed into this, this has been something we’ve been monitoring very carefully.”
Wales’ health minister explained that the Welsh Government got more involved in May when data showed mortality issues at the maternity department.
Baroness Morgan said monthly meetings have been held and the chief nursing officer ordered a quality assurance review into Swansea services in November 2022.
Robert and Sian Channon have been campaigning after their four-year-old son Gethin was born with brain damage after complications during his birth at Singleton Hospital in 2019.
The family called for a commitment to parents being on the review’s oversight board, saying: “Without that, there isn’t full transparency and scrutiny.”
Mr Gwynfor said the families deserve a full and frank explanation of the precise circumstances that led to their traumatic experiences.
He told the chamber: “It is deeply regrettable that they feel their questions remain unanswered and are being met with obfuscation rather than honesty.”
The Dwyfor Meirionnydd MS said the number of NHS midwives in Wales has remained virtually static since 2016, with a decline in the number of experienced staff.
He told MSs that the health board alerted the Welsh Government that staffing levels in Swansea were at a critical level in late 2021.
He questioned why staffing levels were still being described as critical in July 2023.
Baroness Morgan said significant improvements have been made, with the health board investing £750,000 in recruitment to ensure the correct number of nurses.
She explained that 35 additional members of staff will be recruited to ensure staffing levels align with the minimum required in a maternity unit.
She said Healthcare Inspectorate Wales will be publishing its final report this week following an unannounced inspection of maternity services at Singleton Hospital in September.
Raising concerns about cover-ups, Mr George said families have been given misinformation.
The Montgomeryshire MS criticised the Channon family’s treatment by Welsh Government officials who referred to the parents as “serial correspondents”.
He told the chamber one civil servant wrote to another: “I’m wondering if it is time to close it down,” saying the minister looked alarmed at the language used by her officials.
Pressed by the Conservatives’ Tom Giffard and Plaid Cymru’s Sioned Williams, Baroness Morgan assured the public that maternity services in Swansea are safe.
“If the service was not safe, it would be closed,” she said. “It’s very difficult to say that there’s no risk at all anywhere but if it were not safe, it would not be open.”
Altaf Hussain said the minister’s statement on Tuesday December 12 would do little to allay the fears of constituents in his South Wales West region.
The Conservative MS raised concerns that lessons have not been learned following a maternity services scandal at neighbouring Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board.
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