Posted: Wed 24th Nov 2021

Updated: Wed 24th Nov

Mark Drakeford accused of ‘evading responsibility’ over damning report into North Wales mental health unit

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales

Mark Drakeford has been accused of evading responsibility after a long-awaited report exposed failings at a mental health unit in North Wales.

The Holden Report concluded in 2013 that patients at Ysbyty Gwynedd’s Hergest psychiatric unit were put at risk, following a breakdown in relations between staff and managers, bullying accusations and low morale.

Whilst a redacted summary was released in 2015, a fuller version was only finally published last week – following negotiations between the health board and the information commissioner, who agreed to omit staff names.

Several Senedd Members raised the report’s findings during yesterday’s plenary session in the Welsh Parliament.

The First Minister, who served as Health Minister between March 2013 and May 2016, was urged by rivals to take responsibility for what happened.

The toughest criticism came from Conservative MS Darren Millar, who represents Clwyd West.

He said: “First Minister, last week saw the publication of a report on mental health services in north Wales. It made for very difficult reading.

“The Holden report, which was suppressed by the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board for almost eight years, exposed a culture of bullying, intimidation, staff shortages, patient neglect, all at the Hergest unit in Ysbyty Gwynedd.

“Can you tell me, First Minister, what lessons has the Welsh Government learnt from that report?”

Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board has said it must learn from its mistakes in the wake of the damning internal report being made public.

Responding to Mr Millar’s comments, the First Minister said: “The report is eight years old, and many lessons have been learnt since then.

“I was myself heartened to see that the Health Inspectorate Wales report on the Hergest unit in 2018 found evidence that the unit then provided safe care.

“When HIW undertook a quality check at the unit in May of this year, it once again confirmed that considerable progress had been made in bringing that unit to a more acceptable level of care and provision for citizens in that part of Wales.

“Those are the lessons that have been learnt over that eight-year period—that, with a proper focus and commitment from those concerned, even very difficult experiences can be overcome and a path to improvement set out.”

Mr Millar continued to press the First Minister as he said he had failed to answer what the Welsh Government specifically had learnt from the problems at the unit.

He said: “You were the Health Minister at the time that these problems were festering in North Wales.

“Alarm bells were ringing, staff were complaining, patients were being neglected, some were being harmed, and I, along with other elected representatives who were Members of the Senedd at that time, were expressing concerns in correspondence to you.

“But it took you two years—two very long years—and a further damning report into institutional abuse and neglect in mental health services, this time at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd’s Tawel Fan ward, before you finally got around to placing the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board into special measures.

“But of course, it was too little, too late for those patients who in the meantime had come to harm and for their loved ones.

“Do you, as the Health Minister at that particular time, accept any responsibility whatsoever for the harm that was suffered by patients?

“And what action is now being taken to hold those people who were responsible for the failings identified by Holden to account for what went wrong?”

Mr Drakeford said he had taken “full responsibility” for his actions as Health Minister when questions were asked in the Senedd at the time.

However, he accused Mr Millar of failing to give credit to health staff for their work.

He said: “I visited the Hergest unit while I was the Health Minister, partly in response to the correspondence that I was receiving about it.

“I found a beleaguered but very committed staff, determined every day to try to make a difference in the lives of those people whose illness required in-patient mental health attention.

“Those people were determined, despite all the criticism, to come into work every day to do their best, and that’s what I think happens every day, ever since, by those people who provide those services in North Wales.

“The member, as ever, has never a good word to say for anybody who works for the health service. We’ll see if he can manage one now.

“Those people deserve support from people in this chamber, not asking what we are going to do to conduct some sort of retrospective trawl to see who can be held to blame.”

Mr Millar said he was “very disappointed” by the First Minister’s reply and insisted he had “not denigrated in any way the people on the front lines of our health service”.

He said: “What I’m asking you is: will you accept some responsibility for what happened in north Wales to its mental health services, given that you were the Health Minister at the time?

“Where’s the accountability, where’s the apology to those individuals who suffered as a result of that delay in action?

“You evaded responsibility then and you’re now trying to do the same, not just in relation to mental health services in North Wales, but also of course in relation to your decisions around the pandemic.”

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