Patient safety concerns prompt Welsh Government to intervene in Swansea maternity service

PA/ ITV Cymru Wales
Health Minister Eluned Morgan will deliver an oral statement to the Senedd later this afternoon. Credit: PA / ITV Cymru Wales

Health Minister Eluned Morgan has announced the Welsh Government will conduct enhanced monitoring of maternity services at Swansea Bay University Health Board.

ITV Wales understands this action follows an unannounced inspection of the unit by Healthcare Inspectorate Wales in September which found several patient safety concerns.

The full report is due to be published later this week.

In a written statement Eluned Morgan said: "Over recent months, Members and families have highlighted concerns about the maternity and neonatal services provided by Swansea Bay University Health Board.   

"I am today outlining some of the work officials have undertaken to address these concerns. 

Health Inspectorate Wales carried out an unannounced inspection of Singleton Hospital's maternity unit in September 2023. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

The health minister continued: "To gain further assurance, I am announcing that I am escalating the maternity and neonatal services to enhanced monitoring. 

"This will ensure that the health board has the comprehensive support it needs to deliver the improvement plans it has developed and will ensure officials are well placed to assess progress.  The health board has welcomed this escalation."

Eluned Morgan will deliver an oral statement to the Senedd later this afternoon.

Pressure has been mounting on the minister to act ever since an ITV Wales This Week documentary revealed fresh allegations of poor care by mums and a service crippled by critical staffing levels.

Both Ms Morgan and First Minister Mark Drakeford have faced calls in the Senedd in recent weeks to confirm the unit is safe for mothers and babies.

Swansea Bay University Health Board says it has invested £750,000 in its maternity service, including recruiting 35 new midwives. 

Long Overdue

Robert Channon’s son Gethin was born with severe brain damage after complications during his birth in 2019. SBUHB’s review into Gethin's birth was then heavily criticised by one of the UK’s top medical investigators, Dr Bill Kirkup, with accusations the health board covered up the expert's report, which the service denied.

Mr Channon has been calling for an independent review into the maternity unit in Swansea along with opposition politicians in Cardiff Bay. 

He has welcomed the health minister's announcement of enhanced monitoring of the maternity service in Swansea but says it should have come sooner. 

“We are pleased that the Welsh Government has finally acknowledged that SBUHB maternity service requires greater review,” he told ITV Wales.

Robert and Sian Channon’s son Gethin was born with severe brain damage after complications during his birth in 2019. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

“However, this is a small step, and too late for all of the families affected in the last 10 years by the poor leadership, clinical care and cover-ups taking place at the health board.

“A full enquiry into the maternity service is long overdue.”

Last week the health minister was asked by ITV Wales’ political programme Sharp End whether the Welsh Government had conducted an external review of maternity in Swansea and whether she had concerns over the safety of care.

Ms Morgan said her department had asked the Delivery Unit to review the service and that she was confident the service was safe.

Health Minister Eluned Morgan speaking last week on ITV Wales' Sharp End.

Ms Morgan said: “[The Delivery Unit review] is part of an exercise where we are constantly reviewing what is going on, we are expecting a new independent report from HIW to come out very shortly and we will be looking at that in detail to see if we have to take any further measures." 

"If we didn't have confidence in the maternity service in Swansea we would have shut the service down. At the moment we are confident, but there needs to be some measures to strengthen the service so we can make sure the right people are there at the right time."

The Health Minister also updates MSs in the Senedd on Tuesday, after the independent review was announced.

Speaking in the Senedd on Tuesday afternoon, Ms Morgan said: "We need to reassure people in that part of the world that this is a unit that is safe to use. That is a responsibility for the health board.

"It is up to them to communicate to reassure the public and I'm sure that the midwives involved in Singleton Hospital and in that health board will be doing all they can to reassure those mothers who are very much looking forward to this probably most exciting time of their lives, that actually this is something to look forward to, and that the health board will be there every step of the way with them."

Swansea Bay University Health Board says it has invested £750,000 in its maternity service, including recruiting 35 new midwives.  Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Responding to today’s announcement, Shadow Health Minister Russell George MS said: “This announcement is very long overdue.

“It is unfortunate that this escalation has only come after hard pressing questions from the Welsh Conservatives and the media off the back of tireless work by affected families, as opposed to the Labour Health Minister listening to the abundance of evidence on the ground in the Swansea Bay area.

“It has been clear for some time that given the substantial numbers of ongoing investigations into Swansea Bay maternity cases, there were immediate concerns from at least last year, despite the Labour Welsh Government stating the opposite.

“While I am glad that there is evidence now that this issue is being looked at with some seriousness, there is also a need for greater transparency from the Labour Welsh Government going forward.” 

In a statement Swansea Bay University Health Board said: "We welcome the enhanced support the Welsh Government will be providing us over the coming months as we continue to strengthen our maternity and neonatal services which have faced severe staffing pressures over the last couple of years.

“The enhanced support comes on the back of a significant and successful recruitment campaign that has seen 23 new midwives and 14 new midwifery care assistants (with further cohorts to follow) recruited since October 2023 and now already working in the services.

“It also comes as we prepare for the reopening of our Birthing Centre at Neath Port Talbot Hospital and the resumption of our Home Birth service following a £750k additional investment we announced in October.

"The resumption of these services will ensure that we can provide more appropriate care, will enhance choice and will help relieve some of the pressure on the maternity service at Singleton Hospital.”

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