Posted: Tue 28th Apr 2020

Health Minister says no link between Betsi Cadwaladr being in special measures and 84 unreported coronavirus deaths

North Wales news and information
This article is old - Published: Tuesday, Apr 28th, 2020

The Health Minister has said there is no link between the North Wales health board being under special measures and its failure to report 84 coronavirus related deaths in the region.

Last week it was revealed that Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board had not disclosed the COVID-19 statistics correctly for an entire month.

Up until Friday, the number of deaths in the region was not displayed on the Public Health Wales (PHW) website, which instead showed a note suggesting the figure was less than five people.

But it was then discovered there had actually been 88 deaths attributed to the virus in North Wales – 84 of which were added in retrospectively despite occurring between March 20th and April 22nd.

Wales’ chief medical officer Dr Frank Atherton said the health board failed to report the numbers because it was using a different system to the rest of the NHS in the country.

Betsi Cadwaladr has been under the highest level of monitoring by the Welsh Government for almost five years and today North.Wales asked Health Minister Vaughan Gething to explain how managers and ministerial staff did not spot the large discrepancy.

We also asked who decided the health board could use a different reporting system.

Speaking at today’s daily press conference, Mr Gething said: “I just don’t think there is a link between what’s happened here, and special measures and I think it’s particularly unhelpful for people to try to suggest that special measures arrangements have played a part in the COVID-19 response in North Wales.

“Actually, the health board in North Wales and indeed, other health boards right around the country, deserve a significant amount of credit for the way they have changed the way they deliver healthcare, the way they’ve deliberately shifted their resources to tackle this once in a century threat that COVID-19 presents, and the tremendous hard work of not just leaders and managers, but of course our frontline staff run across our health care system.

“That applies just as equally in North Wales, it does in any other part of the country.”

The Health Minister said reporting systems are now “consistent” with all NHS trusts using the same reporting form.

However it emerged today that a further 31 coronavirus deaths in west Wales were also not disclosed.

Overall 115 deaths across Wales during the pandemic were not included in the PHW information.

A report released this afternoon shows Betsi Cadwaladr only became aware of the issue on the 18th of April once PHW started breaking down information by region for the first time.

When asked about the report, Mr Gething said: “It sets out a range of conclusions for areas for improvement. It sets out some of the challenges in communication between the North Wales health board and Public Health Wales, but also a smaller, but material under-reporting issue at Hywel Dda health board where 31 deaths weren’t reported and included in the Public Health Wales figures.

“Each family has been told at the time what’s happened with their loved one. So, for the individual family communication that hasn’t been affected.

“But it’s part of the national picture where it hasn’t been properly reconciled within the data that Public Health Wales published, or that will have been within the figures.”

Mr Gething said the failure to report had not changed the government’s understanding of how the disease is spreading across Wales, but admitted there were lessons to learn about sharing information.

The review paper explains how an electronic form was recently created as a quick way of estimating the death rate during the pandemic.

Some of the key findings can be seen below:

The report notes “inconsistent approaches” in reporting deaths across Welsh health boards along with other issues due to the lack of a single system.

It highlights delays by trusts in providing the data; ambiguity over what constitutes a death which needs to be reported and the inclusion of deaths occurring outside of hospital.

The report describes the reason for the error by Betsi Cadwaladr as “an administrative oversight”, although officials have confirmed they have now started using the correct form.

The Chief Statistician for Wales has been asked to oversee reporting across the country to ensure compliance.

A weekly call has also been setup between the government and health boards to discuss and analyse the figures.

You can view the full press conference with the Health Minister below.

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