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Maternity unit families accuse Welsh Government of ducking responsibility for failings

17 Mar 2024 4 minute read
Photo by Swansea Photographer is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Martin Shipton

A group of parents affected by shocking defects at an NHS maternity unit has accused the Welsh Government of trying to avoid any responsibility for an independent review of the service that is due to be carried out.

Healthcare Inspectorate Wales concluded last September that the safety and wellbeing of mothers and babies could not be guaranteed at the unit in Swansea’s Singleton Hospital.

Families of mothers and babies who have suffered negative health consequences while in the unit have now been told by the Welsh Government that “[the] review of maternity and neonatal services is the responsibility of Swansea Bay University Health Board”.

Letter

In a formal letter of complaint to the Welsh Government, family representatives including Rob and Sian Channon, whose son Gethin, four, suffered extensive brain injuries as a result of negligence around the time of his birth, state: “On behalf of families and victims we disagree with this position and would like to offer further clarify to allow Welsh Government the opportunity to reconsider.

“The Welsh Government has a duty to ensure the safety of mothers and babies in Wales. Eluned Morgan [the Health Minister] has previously stated this was her top priority.

“On December 12 2023 the Welsh Government escalated the maternity and neonatal services at Swansea Bay University Health Board (SBUHB) to level 3 enhanced monitoring.”

The NHS Wales’ “Escalation and Framework” guidance for enhanced monitoring states: “NHS organisations to put effective processes to address issues of concern. The Welsh Government will coordinate activity, observe, challenge and review progress.”

Intervene

The parents’ letter of complaint continues: “Every framework you operate by allows you to intervene and be personally answerable for the review. We can show from extensive Welsh Government documentation that you have been heavily involved and informed of every detail of the review by SBUHB. This has been set out in the table below and the huge number of documents held by the Welsh Government relating to the review.

“The health board has listed the Welsh Government as an ‘important stakeholder’ for the review. The Minister has answered questions in the Senedd and referenced the review.

“It is clear from the extensive documentation that the Health Minister and senior officials are fully aware that victims and families are deeply unhappy with the review, following the numerous attempts to seek engagement with both SBUHB directly and via Welsh Government ministers.

“As the Welsh Government you are ultimately responsible for the NHS in Wales, Swansea Bay University Health Board and subsequently the review. As our email set out, the Welsh Government has allowed and overseen years of chronic maternity failings in SBUHB, all while being fully aware of them.

“Mothers and babies have come to immense harm because no one has answered the pleas from families which would have prevented incidents happening again and again. Families have escalated this to the Welsh Government on numerous occasions as SBUHB continues to operate in unsafe conditions.”

What the families see as extensive Welsh Government involvement in the review is set out in this table:

January 2023:

Letter from Minister Eluned Morgan to a family in which she states: ‘Our greatest priority is the safety of mothers and their babies.’

FAQ; What is the role of the Welsh Government in the Independent Review?

A: The Welsh Government is an important stakeholder in the review and will be updated on progress as part of its enhanced monitoring of the Health Board’s maternity and neonatal services.

January 31 2024:

In discussing the review and a Ministerial briefing, Welsh Government officials state “we are happy to offer a professional clinical view if required”.

January 31 2024:

Informal Welsh Government briefing sent to Eluned Morgan and Mark Drakeford regarding the review.

February 6 2024:

Ministerial Briefing for Eluned Morgan on families’ unhappiness with review.

February 21 2024:

Email from Welsh Government official confirms Minister has been briefed on “unacceptable” appointment of Margaret Bowron KC. The official states the Minister has the option to “accede to families’ request” but refuses to do so.

Documents

The letter goes on to list 21 Welsh Government documents that relate to the review, after which it concludes: “In view of the above, our complaint correctly addresses both SBUHB and the Welsh Government; SBUHB for failing to engage with victims and continuing to cause harm to babies and family; and the Welsh Government for failing to intervene on numerous occasions.

“Your position allows you to intervene, steer and address the issues raised by families. Your position also allows you to engage directly with families to further understand the concerns raised.”

The families are awaiting a response.


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