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Welsh Government accused of being caught with ‘trousers down’ during pandemic

28 Feb 2024 5 minute read
UK Covid-19 Inquiry chair Baroness Heather Hallett .

A grieving woman who lost her mother during the Covid-19 pandemic has accused the Welsh Government of being “caught with their trousers down” when the virus hit Wales.

Elizabeth Grant told the UK Covid-19 Inquiry the Welsh Government then “sat on its hands” when it realised the scale of the health emergency.

Some 12,300 people died due to the virus in Wales and there were more than 43,000 coronavirus-related admissions to hospital.

Mrs Grant was giving evidence on the second day of the inquiry siting in Cardiff as a representative of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Cymru campaign group.

Timeline

She said she had watched the first day’s proceedings and saw a timeline of the Welsh Government’s actions between January and April 2020 relating to care homes.

“I watched yesterday, and I saw your chronological order of the Welsh Government’s performance and it does sound like they were caught with their trousers down,” she told counsel to the inquiry Tom Poole KC.

“And when they realised the impact of the virus on Welsh shores, they sat on their hands.”

Mrs Grant’s mother, Betty, died at home in Monmouthshire in April 2020 aged 86 two days after being discharged from a community hospital.

The hearing heard her mother had tested positive at the beginning of the month and had to remain in the hospital for at least 12 days.

Mrs Grant said her mother had not been tested during a previous hospital stay, and she was not aware that personal protective equipment (PPE) was used for infection control.

Mr Poole asked Mrs Grant: “Is it your belief your mother contracted Covid-19 while in that hospital?”

She replied: “Yes, without a shadow of a doubt.”

Mrs Grant’s mother was sent home on April 17 and she travelled from Bath to help care for her.

Chaos

She described the differences in the lockdown rules between England and Wales as “tantamount to chaos”.

She later became one of the founding members of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Cymru campaign group alongside Anna-Louise Marsh-Rees and Sam Smith.

Asked why she had founded the group, she replied: “I know statistics are very helpful, but I actually thought at the time that these thousands and thousands of deaths on the dashboard… they were desensitising people to the fact they were actually people, they were loved people, they had become statistics.”

Mrs Grant explained the group was looking at the “big picture” and had concerns about the use of PPE, the availability of respirators, the communications around end of life care, and the mandatory use of facemasks.

She also said she could not understand why the 6 Nations game between Wales and Scotland had only been cancelled 24 hours before the match.

Another concern was the lack of testing of patients transferring between wards and hospitals or being discharged into the community, she said.

Testing

The Welsh Government did not start testing patients discharging from hospital until April 29 2020 – some 13 days after the UK Government changed its own guidance.

“We want to know why,” Mrs Grant said.

She was also critical of the decision to allow photographs taken by medical staff during the pandemic to be published in a book.

“There are extra layers to the grief as well that keeps getting added,” she explained.

“Bodies were mislaid, we have members with that experience.

“We have knowledge of members of staff in a particular health board that were going round morgues and ICUs documenting photography of dying people, and people on ventilators that was later exhibited and made a book out of.

“This is another layer that adds to what you are trying to cope with. You are immediately thinking: ‘Is that my mum?’ It’s just unnecessary.”

Amanda Provis, also of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families Cymru group, said she lost both her mother and grandmother during the pandemic.

She told the hearing she believed her mother, Christine, who suffered from pre-existing health conditions, had contracted the virus in April 2020 from her hospital porter father who did not have PPE.

“He spoke to the doctor after my mum had passed and the doctor said it could have come from him or they had gone shopping about a week before the lockdown and it could have come from there, but it is likely it was brought home by my father,” she said.

The inquiry heard that a day before she died at home aged 61 on April 7, she had told her husband she was “too afraid” to go to hospital.

Ms Provis said: “She said: ‘I am too afraid to go to the hospital and if I haven’t got it and it is just a really bad flu then I will end up with it and I don’t want to be on my own.’

“She was too afraid to go to the hospital, but she wasn’t advised to.”

She added: “I am concerned there wasn’t adequate PPE for anybody that worked there and if there was adequate PPE it would have been brought home to my mother and she would have still hopefully been with us.”

Care home

Ms Provis said her grandmother, Maureen, died in January 2021 aged 84 after contracting coronavirus while a resident at a care home.

She said she was unaware of any infection control at the home.

Mr Poole asked: “Were you aware of what steps were taken to deal with what sounds like an outbreak of Covid-19?”

She replied: “They were all separated and isolated in their own individual rooms.”

Asked about what medical treatment her grandmother may have received prior to her death on January 29, Ms Provis replied: “I know a doctor went there and all they were advised was paracetamol for any temperatures, they had but nothing else.”

The hearing continues.


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