Health board's response to Hergest mental health unit report slammed as 'appalling'

Mark Polin, was first given sight of the full report in July this year – nearly two years after he took up his post. Credit: Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board

A health board’s response to a report into whistleblowing concerns about mental health patients being "neglected" has been slammed as “utterly appalling”. It comes after it emerged that the chair of the health board only received a full copy of the report in July this year.

The Robin Holden report was completed in 2014, after staff blew the whistle with their concerns over patient safety and fears some were being given sub-standard care on the Hergest Unit of Ysbyty Gwynedd.

ITV News has learned that the Chair of Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, Mark Polin, was first given sight of the full report in July this year – nearly two years after he took up his post.

David Graves' mother was a patient at the Hergest unit in 2013

Jean Graves was a patient on the Hergest Unit in 2013. Mrs Graves’s son, David Graves told ITV News, “If Betsi Cadwaladr says the Chair of that organisation first saw Holden [in July] then given its pertinence to ongoing issues … then that is utterly appalling.” 

Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board said Mark Polin “has been aware and briefed on the Holden report and its subject matter since summer 2019.”

However, that still leaves nearly a year between Mr Polin taking up his role and being made aware of the Holden report.

Furthermore, ITV News also understands Mr Polin held a meeting, alongside other senior health board bosses, with Mr Graves about his mother’s care in February 2019. The timing of this suggests that when it was held, Mr Polin had still not been made aware of the Holden report by other executives at the health board.

That gap has prompted criticism from political parties.

Plaid Cymru’s health spokesperson, Rhun Ap Iorwerth MS said: “For a health board put in special measures largely because of the failings of its mental health service, it beggars belief that this report wouldn’t have been one of the first across the Chair’s desk.

“Proper oversight of the health board’s actions will only be achieved by full disclosure to the head of the Board. If the Chair wasn’t made aware of the full findings, how can the public be assured that lessons have been learned? If the details are not shared until a year or more after the Chair took up his position, then how can the public have confidence that the health board is taking the findings seriously?” 

The Welsh Conservatives’ health spokesperson, Andrew RT Davies MS said that the delay in the chair of the health board being made aware of the Holden report shows "a lack of urgency."

 Mr Davies said: “Given how important the Holden report is, I am very surprised and disappointed that it was nearly a year into the job that the Chairman of the health board was briefed on it.

Regrettably this does show a lack of urgency in understanding and dealing with the report and its findings.

Andrew RT Davies MS, Shadow Health Minister

“Families and staff affected by this dark episode in the health board’s history deserve better.”

In response, Mark Polin, Chair of Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, said: “The Holden report was compiled in 2013, and was subjected to scrutiny following its production.

“Since taking up the post of chair in 2018, I have been briefed on a number of occasions as to the contents of the review and the actions taken following its production.

“I sought and was provided with a copy of the full report following the ICO decision, as I wished to explore the basis for that decision.”

The health board is continuing to appeal against an Information Commissioner’s decision which ruled the health board was wrong to withhold the Holden report and that it must be published in full.