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Row intensifies over ‘unsafe’ maternity unit

12 Jun 2024 5 minute read
Singleton Hospital, Swansea. Photo by Swansea Photographer is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Martin Shipton

The official body set up to provide a voice for NHS users has intervened in a major row by criticising the way parents have been excluded from the workings of a panel reviewing the failings of a maternity unit.

Healthcare Inspectorate Wales concluded in September 2023 that the safety and wellbeing of mothers and babies could not be guaranteed at the unit in Swansea’s Singleton Hospital. Monitoring of the unit was subsequently intensified.

The Welsh Government has refused to order an independent public inquiry into the failings, although Swansea Bay University Health Board (SBUHB) has commissioned a review chaired by leading barrister Margaret Bowron KC.

However, Ms Bowron has antagonised parents by refusing to meet them to discuss their concerns – and the contents of an email among documents disclosed to them were interpreted by parents as meaning that she wanted to “close them down”.

Loss of confidence

Mwoyo Makuto, regional director of Llais, the body that provides a voice for NHS users, wrote to SBUHB stating: “The comment made by the chair has resulted in a loss of confidence in the process by the families that received maternity care from the health board, those whom the review seeks to provide assurance to. I should therefore be grateful for the health board to respond to my specific point in this regard, such that confidence to participate in the review process might be restored.”

Ms Bowron responded: “I regret my choice of words, which have perhaps been misunderstood. I have no desire or intention to exclude families from the review, which is the sense in which my words have been taken. I wanted to ‘close down’ the misapprehension that I am myself carrying out the review as opposed to chairing the oversight panel … The dialogue with impacted families is being led by Cath Broderick [an independent consultant in patient and public engagement], and I felt it important that it be the engagement lead who established the first contact with families … I entirely expect to meet impacted families in due course.”

But in a further letter to the health board, Ms Makuto has now stated: “Llais has discussed Margaret Bowron’s response with the family and I must inform you that they do not consider that the apology and explanations provided go far enough to allay their concerns nor restore confidence in the review process.

“The families are asking for the chair’s resignation from the review panel. While a meeting between the chair and the affected families was previously considered inappropriate, I write to ask for reconsideration of that position. It is vital that all affected families feel included in the review process. A meeting might go some way to restoring confidence in the process, that has evidently been lost.”

Full apology

Rob Channon, whose five-year-old son Gethin suffered a catastrophic brain injury at birth because of negligence in the unit and who is a spokesman for the parents’ group, said: “We thank Llais for taking up the view of families that Margaret Bowron’s non-apology does nothing to restore confidence in the review process or leadership of it. Llais have been relentless in pushing for a full apology and now conveying the families’ demand for the KC to stand down immediately.

“From the day of her appointment we have only ever tried to meet Ms Bowron and discuss how the review should be set up and run. We were met with refusal, gaslighting, arrogance and as her own email to Bevan Brittan LLP [solicitors working for the health board on the review] shows, we never had a chance.

“Her appointment was announced on January 31 2024. Ms Bowron has caused families nothing but further pain and upset. Whether it was by ignoring emails from multiple families who wrote to her, arranging a joint meeting with SBUHB staff or setting out her desire to ‘close down’ family involvement. All of this and the review has not even started yet.

“The inappropriate behaviour of Ms Bowron was also raised by Mabon ap Gwynfor MS in the Senedd last week. Margaret Bowron KC has refused to stand down in the past, the latest developments and involvement of Llais, mean the only people supporting her continued appointment are the health board directors who ignored the maternity failings in the first place.

“By continuing in her role Margaret Bowron is disrespecting families and those who have been harmed by the SBUHB maternity service. Gethin deserves his case being reviewed and considered by a fully independent review panel and oversight chair not directly appointed by those who harmed him. The failure to do this is a disgrace to Gethin and every other harmed individual.

“We would also add that UK wide statistics show that BAME women have the worst maternity outcomes. Ms Bowron KC and SBUHB have done nothing to include any BAME representation in the review, at any level. It is unbelievable in 2024 that they are willing to disregard the views and involvement of this vital community.”

Mr Channon added that a full public apology from Ms Bowron must be accompanied by the appointment of families and BAME representatives to her oversight panel, something the affected families requested in January this year. Anything less would be unacceptable.

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Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 month ago

Baroness Bumble says no…

Rhddwen y Sais
Rhddwen y Sais
1 month ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

It is much wider than that.

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
1 month ago

The NHS is failing big time in Wales. What with the long waiting lists, the lack of supplies and the incompetence of management, its a nightmare. Lets face it long waiting lists serve the interests of consultants and surgeons. People get so desperate they accept private ‘care’ whether they can afford it or not. Paying through the nose again on top of many years of national insurance contributions. The rot starts at the top, the Senedd. No leadership or ideas, no accountability

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