South Wales health board ‘put too much emphasis on targets instead of patient safety’

A health board criticised for severe maternity failings put too much emphasis on targets instead of patient safety, according to a report.

A joint review by the Healthcare Inspectorate Wales and the Wales Audit Office also found a number of “fundamental weaknesses” in Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board’s governance.

It said there were “many areas where significant improvements are required” at the board, which runs maternity services in Bridgend, Merthyr Tydfil and Rhondda Cynon Ta in South Wales.

Cwm Taf was put into special measures in April following investigations into standards of maternity care after 22 neonatal deaths and five stillbirths were unearthed at two hospitals.

The review said that while there had been a strong focus on financial management and meeting key targets, less attention has been paid to the overall quality and safety of maternity services.

It pointed to a “culture of fear and blame” in some parts of the organisation that prevented staff from speaking out and raising concerns.

Dr Kate Chamberlain (pictured), chief executive of the Healthcare Inspectorate Wales, said: “Our joint review findings make worrying reading.

“Whilst maintaining a necessary focus on its finances and other performance targets, the health board has not given due attention to the quality of the services it provides.

“Urgent action is needed to correct this and to support staff on the ground to deliver care that is safe and of high quality.”

Auditor General for Wales Adrian Crompton said: “The scale of the challenge for the health board is significant.

“Fundamental aspects of quality governance have been allowed to lapse and work is now urgently needed to rebuild both those internal systems and the external confidence in the health board.

“New leadership, who have a clear idea of what needs to change, gives cause for optimism but they will need to act with both resilience and pace to effect the many changes that are necessary.”

Opposition politicians in Wales blamed the Labour-run Welsh Government for the weaknesses.

Helen Mary Jones, Plaid Cymru’s health spokeswoman, said: “After 20 years of running the NHS, Welsh Labour should be ashamed that external reports still identify basic weaknesses with the governance of health boards and a corporate culture that does not empower staff to raise concerns.”

Angela Burns, Welsh Conservative Assembly Member, said: “The report is shocking, but not surprising.

“It is yet more evidence – seemingly a weekly occurrence – on how our people here in Wales, and in this case specifically in the catchment area of Cwm Taf University Health Board, are being let down by the Welsh Labour Government’s woeful failure to manage NHS Wales.”

Vaughan Gething, minister for health and social services, said: “As the report makes clear, while some things can be done quickly and are already progressing, there is clearly still a considerable amount of work required to address the fundamental issues which have come to light.

“The health board’s progress is, and will continue to be, monitored closely through our escalation arrangements to ensure the necessary rigour and pace.”

Dr Sharon Hopkins, the board’s interim chief executive, said the members accepted all the recommendations in the report.

“Work is already under way to address the key issues in the report,” she said.

“This includes a major programme to develop our values and behaviours, a new organisational model to improve our structures, increased engagement with staff and partners and strengthening of our quality governance arrangements.

“A number of these plans are already in progress, however we know that some improvements will take longer to achieve.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Healthcare Inspectorate Wales.