The Welsh Mid-Staffs?

Darren Millar responds to yesterday’s Andrew’s report on AMBU Health Board.

The NHS has been managed by Labour-run governments in Wales for 15 years – and this is easily one of the most shocking reports into NHS care published during that time. The startling severity of this review’s findings is almost unimaginable. It is inexcusable and indefensible. I am both distressed and dismayed to read the evidence documented and my heart goes out to those patients and their families who have suffered unnecessarily.

The appalling accounts of unforgiveable failings within this report could only have been caused by a catastrophic collapse in systems and processes. A woman overheard saying ‘I am in hell’, a mum who ‘had no medication or food or water for days’, a hospital that left a dad with ‘the cloth and a bowl to wash himself.’ The list goes on; all of it a sickening betrayal of the trust patients and their families place in the NHS. Apologies will do little to put anything right. That said, what has been offered to this point does not go far enough. I have called on Labour’s First Minister and Health Minister to apologise personally to all the victims of these failings and I will continue to do so. While this may put nothing right, it will surely go some way to allaying the desperation and frustration felt by those who have suffered.

The comments made within this report on short term planning within Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board echo views that I have previously expressed on the floor of the Senedd chamber. Professor Andrews highlights too much focus on short-term financial planning for example. He goes so far as to say that the health board was driven by balancing the books each year, which stopped it properly prioritising quality and patient safety. Labour’s decision not to protect the NHS budget in Wales and impose record-breaking cuts has long heaped pressure on frontline staff. This report emphasises just how dangerous that decision has become.

It is clear that communication within the health board has also contributed to these catastrophic failings. The report states that senior managers don’t know who is responsible for what.  This, coupled with the current muddled management structures, has worsened the effects of short term planning delivery, at the expense of patients and their care. Patients constantly felt that the health board simply wasn’t listening to them.   The ABMU Victim Support Group was driven to the lengths criticised in the report because it felt that patients and their relatives were not being listened to – and their complaints were not being addressed.  These are desperate people searching for answers.  If it wasn’t for the sterling campaigns lead by people such as Gareth Williams would the Welsh Government have sat up and taken notice of the failings?  I seriously doubt it.

Make no mistake – while I sincerely hope this review will have a huge role to play in drastically improving care at the Princess of Wales and Neath Port Talbot hospitals – I also believe its terms of reference were far too narrow. Paediatric and other adult care systems were ignored and – if there are severe issues of concern within elderly care – it is very unlikely that it is the elderly alone who have been affected.

Guarantees that this chaos is not happening elsewhere are urgently required and all the report’s recommendations must be implemented swiftly and efficiently.

In conclusion – and despite Welsh Labour’s inevitable claims to the contrary – if it looks like a Mid-Staffs scandal, smells like a Mid-Staffs scandal, and moves like a Mid-Staff scandal, then it probably is another Mid-Staffs. Ultimately – there remains only one way to wholly guarantee a safe National Health Service for future generations: a Wales-wide independent Keogh-style inquiry.

Darren Millar is the Shadow Spokesperson for Health.

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