Posted: Mon 27th Apr 2020

Health Board underreporting of coronavirus death figures in North Wales had “an impact on ministerial perception”

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Monday, Apr 27th, 2020

First Minister Mark Drakeford has said the people of Wales are “entitled to expect that figures published by our system are figures that you can rely on” amid an ‘error’ that saw the North Wales health board not reporting deaths daily.

An investigation was launched after it was revealed that Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board failed to report daily coronavirus death numbers for a whole month.

It still unclear how the huge death figures were missed, with the daily stats across Wales and and the UK forming a cornerstone of public information on the spread and impact of the virus.

Up until Friday, the number of deaths in the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board area that covers North Wales was not declared – with the Public Health Wales note on the data effectively told public the figure was under 5 people, “Figures for some health boards will be suppressed if the number of deaths is 5 or lower, in order to prevent individual deaths from being identifiable.”

On Friday it was revealed that there were 88 deaths attributed to coronavirus in north Wales – including 84 retrospective deaths which occurred between 20.03.2020 and 22.04.2020

Public Health Wales said “The sudden increase in numbers is due to a delay in the reporting process.”

Wales’ chief medical officer Dr Frank Atherton said Betsi Cadawaladr health board failed to report daily coronavirus death figures because it used a different system to the rest of the Welsh NHS, later described by the First Minister as ‘not all parts of Wales are using the same reporting mechanism’.

Today the First Minister said a draft report on the incident was circulating, and he expected the full report to hit his desk later today.

We asked the First Minister today if the report will be made public as soon as possible, and if he was expecting resignations due to the seriousness of suppressing such data during a pandemic.

The First Minister said: “I certainly take accurate reporting seriously, as I’ve demonstrated this morning, and I did from the end of Friday afternoon when the difficulty was first reported.

“I think what people in Wales will want to know, what are the conclusions of that report and even more importantly, what we are doing to respond to those conclusions so that we know that if there have been problems they’ve been put.”

The First Minister did not go as far as promising the report be made public but did say he was ‘certainly committed to putting those conclusions and solutions into the public domain’.

Speaking on the topic, Mr Drakeford also said: “If there are other issues that the report uncovers, then I will expect both health boards and Public Health Wales to address those issues so that we can all be sure that the figures we are presented with are as reliable and accurate as they need to be.”

In the briefing today the First Minster stated he had covered the issue with the report due and acting on conclusions, noting that ‘patterns’ of coronavirus spread had not been impacted by the incorrect public data as other indicators were known to the health services and government.

We pointed out our now regular comment that low figures of confirmed cases are reported in North Wales due to low amounts of testing, and also the low number of deaths were reported due to what has now been confirmed as duff data.

We asked if the First Minister recognised that low or non-existent figures could impact public awareness and perception of the issue of coronavirus, and the impact it is having locally to them and therefore influencing their behaviour.

The First Minister said: “I certainly accept that if the data that has been published turns out not to be accurate, that has an impact on public perception.

“It has an impact on ministerial perception as well, which is why I said from the beginning that ministers are entitled, and the public in Wales is entitled to know that these figures are accurate.”

Mr Drakeford did not expand on how government ministers perceptions were impacted, he added “I didn’t say in an earlier answer that everything in North Wales had been sorted out.

“I’m waiting to see the final report myself today and when we know where the difficulties have been identified, then I expect those difficulties to be put right, whether they are in North Wales or in any other part of Wales.

“Because wherever you live in Wales, you are entitled to expect that figures published by our system are figures that you can rely on.”

You can view today’s briefing and subsequent Q&A below:

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