Families to wait 'best part of two years' for answers on Covid-19 infections caught in hospital

  • Report by Hamish Auskerry

More than 20,000 potential cases of Covid-19 infections caught whilst in hospital are still to be investigated, nine months on from the Welsh Government pledge to look at every single case.

Families could have to wait "the best part of two years" before they get answers about the care their loved ones received, according to the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Wales, Chris Jones.

It comes as Welsh bereaved families and opposition parties continue to call for a Wales-specific covid inquiry, in addition to the UK-wide public inquiry already ongoing.

More than £4.5m was put forward in January to investigate all incidents of hospital-acquired Covid-19, with the Welsh Government saying lessons learnt would reduce the chances of it happening to anyone else.

As of September 2022, there were 20,690 incidents of 'probable or definite healthcare acquired Covid-19' that required investigation.

2,311 investigations had been completed while 3,208 were underway.

Tina Evans, from Carmarthenshire, is one of those waiting for the results of an investigation.

Tina lost her father Michael in November 2020, while he was receiving treatment in Prince Philip Hospital. She is now a member of the Covid Bereaved Families for Justice Cymru group that campaigns for a Welsh specific public inquiry into the pandemic.

Tina described her dad as "quiet, private, a family man and hard-working". He had been a miner but then suffered a stroke when he was 26, meaning he had to work above ground from then on.

"He was blue-lighted in on a Saturday and he died on Tuesday 10th November 2020", Tina told me.

Tina is one of the relatives still waiting for answers after the death of her dad Michael. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Tina was not allowed to visit inside the ward due to pandemic restrictions, so she saw her former mining dad through the window of the hospital on the Sunday.

"He was very hypoxic, he was very confused. We didn't really have a meaningful conversation and to be honest with you, I never thought that would be the last time I saw him I'd see him alive, but it was".

Tina says that at 6am on Monday 9th November, she was told by doctors that her father had been placed on a CPAP machine to help him breath and a Do-Not-Attempt CPR notice had been completed. 

But then at 12pm, she says she rang ward and was advised that her father was responding really well to treatment. She rang again at 2pm and asked whether she could visit Michael in the ward.

"I was told in a very abruptly that "there had been no visiting since March", Tina explained, "and when I mentioned palliative patients were allowed visiting the nurse said "there's no need for any of that, your father is a well man".

The ward sister phoned Tina at 8.50am the following morning (Tuesday) to inform her that Michael had died at 7am.

Tina says she has questions about the care her dad received, and has asked Hywel Dda health board to help her fill in the gaps in his medical notes.

Nearly two years since his death, she is yet to receive a detailed response.

Tina's dad was taken into hospital on the Saturday and died on the following Tuesday. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Responding to ITV Wales in a statement, Mandy Rayani, Director of Nursing, Quality & Patient Experience at Hywel Dda University Health Board said: "We offer our sincere condolences to Mr Evans' family and we are in the process of providing them with our response to the concerns they have raised.

"Along with other health boards, we are following the review process for healthcare acquired COVID-19. While this is taking longer than we would like, the health board is committed to following the governance arrangements agreed with Welsh Government; this is right and proper to ensure cases are reviewed appropriately to enable us to provide answers for families.

"We understand this process is difficult and we aim to make significant progress in engaging with families in the coming months, particularly those whose family member has died."

Freedom of Information (FOI) data seen by ITV Wales shows thousands of investigations across all health board areas in Wales have not started.

Data correct to 8th September, showed that Aneurin Bevan and Swansea Bay health boards had completed zero investigations, while Cwm Taf and Hywel Dda had completed just two.

Those four health boards alone had another 9,533 investigations they had not started by early September.

With the virus still circulating in the community, the total number of incidents that require investigation could change as more cases may occur and some cases where patients were thought to have caught Covid-19 in a healthcare setting, have been re-categorised after investigation.

ITV Wales asked to speak to the Health Minister, Eluned Morgan MS, about the progress of investigations across the country, but the Welsh Government put the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Chris Jones, up for interview instead.

Asked whether families might have to wait three or more years for answers if the rate of completed investigations did not increase he said:

"I hope it won't take three or four years. I think it could take the best part of two years. I mean, this is a big task and the NHS has had to appoint some extra staff to be able to undertake these investigations.

"We've had to put in place mechanisms in the NHS to ensure this is all done consistently and properly to the right standard. And that is all taken some time. And having said that, they've already completed 1000s of investigations. And so actually they are making good progress and actually the pace is picking up".

The Welsh Government said all NHS organisations are required to report their progress and an interim national learning report will also be produced and published by the end of March 2023.

This will be followed by a full end of programme national report in 2024.

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