Vaughan Gething, Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services
Members may be aware of recent court judgments relating to the need for legal proceedings in every case before life-supporting treatment is withdrawn from persons in permanent vegetative or minimally conscious states. In September last year, the Court of Protection in a significant judgment concluded that a decision to withdraw clinically assisted nutrition and hydration taken by clinicians in accordance with the prevailing professional guidance and the relevant statutory frameworks would be lawful. The court was however keen to emphasise it is always available where there is disagreement, or where it is felt for some other reason that an application to court should be made.
These are complex, sensitive and important issues and the Welsh Government is monitoring developments closely. In the meantime, I want to be assured that those working in the health and care sector here in Wales are fully equipped to deal with such issues should they be faced with them. Over recent months we have taken a number of actions to understand the current position in Wales in relation to people who are in a permanent vegetative or minimally conscious state. This includes the Chief Medical Officer writing to all health boards in Wales to assess the potential number of cases in Wales and to seek assurance that their diagnosis, care and treatment is being undertaken in their best interests.
We are keen that lessons be learnt from the experiences of Welsh patients and their families. I have asked Professor Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, former clinical palliative care lead for Wales and current chair of the National Mental Capacity Forum for England and Wales to lead a review of decision making within a case which has been drawn to my attention. Professor Finlay will be supported by a registered social worker, Rachel Griffiths MBE, who has a good understanding of the way decisions were taken prior to and since the Mental Capacity Act 2005; and a retired barrister, Gerard Elias CBE QC.
I have also asked the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Wales to convene a task and finish group to consider, whether there is a need for any additional guidance, education or training to be developed for the health and social care sector in Wales.
I am not providing full details within this statement out of respect for the privacy of the family involved.