Welsh Government demand health board hands over 'covered up' maternity review

  • Gethin's father, Robert Channon, speaks exclusively to ITV Wales

The Welsh Government has demanded a critical maternity review into the birth of a disabled boy in Swansea be handed over by the health board.

It comes amid claims from the family of three-year-old Gethin Channon that serious concerns around his maternity care, identified by one of the UK’s top medical investigators, were "covered up" by the health board. 

Gethin Channon was born with significant brain damage after complications during his birth at Singleton Hospital in 2019. 

Gethin was born at the maternity unit at Singleton Hospital

Swansea Bay University Health Board commissioned Dr Bill Kirkup, who recently led an inquiry into East Kent maternity service, to conduct an external review of the care provided to the Channon family. 

Dr Kirkup’s findings, published in March this year, identified a number of failings in care during labour, as well as suggestions medical notes relating to Gethin Channon’s birth had been altered.

He also criticised the "poor quality" of a review conducted by the health board into Gethin's maternity care, while also noting the review was "defensive" and "omitting significant features of care".

ITV Wales has been shown a letter in which Health Minister Eluned Morgan MS said she is “concerned” by the issues raised by the Channon family and that she will be requesting all information relating to the birth of Gethin Channon be handed over, including Dr Kirkup’s review. 

Health Minister Eluned Morgan MS said she is “concerned” by the issues raised by the Channon family

The health board said it has been asked to provide documents ahead of a meeting between the Channon family and the Welsh Government. 

The Welsh Government said it was aware of Dr Kirkup's report in March and has asked Swansea Bay University Health Board for copies of internal and external reviews, including that of Dr Kirkup.

Gethin’s father Robert Channon said, "It’s very welcome.”

"We feel we have been fighting this alone for quite a long time, so to have the Welsh Government decide to come in and investigate it is very welcome. We just hope they spend the proper time looking at it with an open mind."

"The failures raised by Dr Kirkup in his report are very serious and they deserve the attention of the Health Minister.”

Mr Channon has now called for the Chief Executive of Swansea Bay University Health Board, Mark Hackett, to step aside from his role while the Welsh Government work to establish what has happened. 

"I think the Welsh Government should commission an independent review into Swansea Bay University Health Board maternity services; someone completely separate from the NHS in Wales.”

Mr Channon had earlier described how he was left "devastated" when he first read Dr Kirkup’s review back in March.

Robert Channon has described how he was left 'devastated' by the review's findings

“Your world ends.” He said.

“I think there was a period of a week where we didn't stop crying, we barely left the house. To read from someone of his expertise, what he considers went on that day…I can’t put it into words.”

"The Health Board didn't take Dr Kirkup’s report very well. We have copies of emails where the Chief Executive is questioning Dr Kirkup’s credentials, attempting to ask Dr Kirkup to revise the report before we are given a copy and attempting to put conditions on the report so we wouldn't be able to share it with anyone, keep it quiet.”

"To us, it’s a cover-up. Dr Kirkup in his report notes Gethin’s medical notes were changed from the time of his birth. To go through the devastation of reading what went wrong is indescribable.”

  • Worrying features

Dr Bill Kirkup told ITV News he was shocked by the reaction of the local health board to his findings and dismayed when they questioned his credentials.

"I discovered that there were some worrying features about the investigation, particularly the maternity investigation, that they had done in the aftermath of Gethin's birth."

"There seemed to me to be clear evidence of some things their report simply didn't look at and it had downplayed a number of features of concern, and I say that as a very experienced investigator well used to looking at reports. That was not a good report and missed significant areas of learning.”

The expert who led high-profile inquiries into Hillsborough, Jimmy Saville and Morecambe Bay maternity care said,  “They questioned my credentials to be able to do that, that was disappointing.” 

Dr Kirkup said he has not heard from the health board since publishing his review findings.

"It’s a very disappointing response. It suggests that their reaction was based on defensiveness rather than a willingness to learn and that's always something you don't want to see in a health services.”

A spokesperson for the Welsh Government said, “We were not directly involved in this case, but were informed by Swansea Bay University Health Board following the external review completed by Dr Kirkup. We were first notified of the report completed by Dr Kirkup in March 2022.”

"The Chief Nursing Officer and Deputy Chief Medical Officer are due to meet Mr and Mrs Channon shortly to listen to their concerns."

 A spokesperson for Swansea Bay University Health Board said, “We are aware a meeting has been arranged between the Welsh Government and the family to discuss their concerns.”

 "We have been asked to provide documents in order to inform that meeting, which of course we are happy to do.”

"As the family are now in direct contact with the Welsh Government, it would be inappropriate for the health board to comment further at this stage.”

Previously, the health board told ITV Wales, “We are committed to patient safety across all our services, including maternity care.”

"Following on from concerns raised around Mrs Channon’s maternity care, we commissioned the Wales Neonatal Network to carry out an external review of Swansea Bay’s maternity services as a whole.”

The health board said it is "committed to patient safety across all our services, including maternity care" Credit: PA

"The Network’s report, which has just been finalised, widely praised our maternity service for its culture of patient safety, continuous learning, and patient engagement.”

"We are committed to doing everything possible to continue to provide a compassionate and high standard of ongoing care for Mr and Mrs Channon’s young son, Gethin, who tragically suffers from permanent disabilities.”

"We have been working tirelessly with Mrs and Mrs Channon to investigate and address their individual concerns over many months.”

"The external reviewer whom we commissioned to do this work had not been instructed to review Mrs Channon’s earlier maternity care. However, he added an assessment on her care to his report, which was based on records we provided to him as background information.”

"At no time did we seek to prevent this additional report from being shared with Mr and Mrs Channon. Rather – because it was unexpected - we asked for an opportunity to check it for accuracy first, and also allow us an opportunity to ensure we were available to support the family when they received it.”

"We took the external reviewer’s concerns about Mrs Channon’s maternity care very seriously, and offered to commission a joint expert review of her care.”

"Where families consider there has been clinical negligence and the internal complaints process has been exhausted, the usual route is for solicitors to be instructed, for external expert reports to be obtained and for the Court to determine the claim. To date, no such claim has been received by the health board."