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Victims of failed maternity unit say Vaughan Gething did nothing to help them

22 May 2024 6 minute read
Singleton Hospital. Image NHS Wales – Inset First Minister Vaughan Gething – Image Senedd Cymru

Martin Shipton

Families whose lives have been devastated by medical negligence and care failings at a maternity unit have accused First Minister Vaughan Gething of ignoring their concerns and called for a public inquiry.

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

On December 22 last year seven parents who’d had bad experiences in the unit wrote to Mr Gething at a time when he was a candidate for the Welsh Labour leadership asking him to intervene. Their letter to him said: “You will no doubt be aware of the recent Senedd and media attention around the maternity service in Swansea Bay University Health Board.

Enhanced monitoring

The maternity service was placed into ‘enhanced monitoring’ by the Welsh Government on December 12 2023 following a review by HIW in September 2023, the report from which highlighted just how serious the situation is in the Singleton maternity service. The report … is a sickening read.

“Unfortunately despite these recent developments, the health board has failed to grasp the seriousness of the situation, with a lot of the failings being attributed to staffing pressures rather than the poor staff culture and practice and lack of governance that we are able to evidence.

“They announced an ‘independent review’ of the service without any consultation with the approximately 40 families who have now come forward outlining specific concerns. In public statements. Rather than acknowledging any failings, the health board blamed ’public pressure’ for the need to conduct a review. Without the leadership of Swansea Bay University Health Board (SBUHB) acknowledging how serious the failings are and engaging with families who have been directly affected, we are concerned that not all the issues will be addressed and mothers, babies and families will continue to be put at serious risk.

“There has been a complete absence of leadership and corporate governance over a period of years, which we do not believe can be rectified by simply adding more staff. Equally the Health Minister [Eluned Morgan’s] assertions that the learning from Cwm Taf maternity scandal will be applied is a hollow promise. Cwm Taf investigations were five years ago, and without a review of SBUHB maternity it is naïve to assume that both have the same issues.

“Despite our continuous lobbying for the issues to be addressed, families have not been involved in drafting the terms of reference, which currently are unacceptable. The health board has also recruited experts and an oversight panel, once again without any consultation from victims and families.

“The lack of engagement when they know how much we have pushed for this change further demonstrates that there is little acceptance of the concerns, and does not work in line with the health board’s duty of candour requirements to create a culture of trust and openness and to be open and honest with service users. [We are] sure you will agree this is a deeply troubling situation and demonstrates the culture that they are working under.

“As the maternity scandal in Swansea Bay will potentially be the defining NHS issue if you are appointed as First Minister, we are reaching out to you in the hope that we can arrange a meeting between yourself and the families involved. The stories shared by families are horrifying, involving serious injury and deaths and need to be heard by the Welsh Government to ensure what has gone so wrong in Swansea Bay cannot be allowed to happen again.”

Health Board Risk Register

Rob Channon, whose son Gethin, now five, suffered a catastrophic brain injury because of negligence in the unit and who is a spokesman for the parents’ group, said: “Mr Gething never responded to the correspondence. Also he was Health Minister from 2016-2021. This is the time when four critical risks on maternity were added to the Health Board Risk Register. They were still there at the end of December 2023.

“Mr Gething was also Health Minister when Gethin was born in March 2019 and we all know the details of that. His health department was sent a notification of the serious incident of Gethin’s birth.

“More than that, though, we have two FOI responses from SBUHB which show they paid out millions of pounds in birth injury payouts when he was Health Minister and had a huge spike of serious incidents in 2019.”

Between April 2017 and March 2021 the health board paid out more than £19.4m in compensation and costs for clinical negligence involving birth injuries. And in 2019 / 2020 Mr Gething’s health department would have received 33 notifications relating to serious birth incidents in Swansea Bay. What did he do? Nothing. They blame ‘reporting requirements’ for this, but considering everything we now know about Swansea maternity it is clear that the First Minister missed several red flags.

“His refusal even now to respond to victims is an insult and we argue backs up the need for a full public inquiry into what went wrong in the Welsh Government.

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Swansea Bay University Health Board’s maternity and neonatal services were put into enhanced monitoring in December 2023, in line with NHS escalation procedures. We will continue to monitor the health board’s progress delivering the implementation plan to address actions set out in the HIW report.”

Panel review

Instead of a public inquiry, a panel review of the maternity unit is underway, chaired by Margaret Bowron KC. On Monday May 20 a number of the parents, not including Mr Channon or his wife Sian, were invited by Ms Bowron to participate in an online meeting to hear how the panel review will be undertaken. But some of the parents were appalled to learn that members of staff at the unit had also been invited to the meeting.

Mr Channon said: “It instantly upset our group of 60-plus victims. To be forced to discuss a review with staff present was horrifying. We had mums in tears because they would have been in this meeting with the very staff who harmed them along with whoever else from the health board.

“As a group we have now decided to no longer participate in the review while Ms Bowron is Chair.”

Following representations made by the parents’ group, Ms Bowron said staff would not attend the meeting after all.

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12 days ago

VG and the Baroness may both do well on a diet of pure rhetoric. The rest of us need something more substantial to sustain us.

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
11 days ago

Shocking. Yet another example of the sheer incompetence of Gething, so too the rest of the LP in the Senedd who support him and his ilk.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
11 days ago

And then there were two…

John hopkins
John hopkins
11 days ago

It seems wherever Vaughn gethin has been involved it turns out to be a total failure health finance and now his appointment as first minister is going to be the next disaster,with the elections around the corner are the Welsh people going to continue with this total failure of government

A Evans
A Evans
10 days ago
Reply to  John hopkins

It is just a matter if time. As the clock slowly ticks toward the next Senedd election, Labour’s nodding donkeys will gradually realise that P45s are being prepared!

A Evans
A Evans
10 days ago

Von Gethin has apparently a history of not involving himself UNLESS there is financial gain in it for him. He ignored these justifiable concerns as Health Minister but approved receiving £200,000 from a convicted criminal! Go figure!

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