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The families in Wales who want answers from the COVID inquiry

As the COVID inquiry comes to Cardiff, Sky News has spoken with some families in Wales who are still searching for answers over the loss of their loved ones.

Margaret Williams, 76, lost her mum to COVID during the first wave of the pandemic.

This year, Peggy Patrick, who was 95 when she died, would have celebrated her 100th birthday.

Mrs Williams told Sky News it was a “truly traumatic and horrifying time”.

“I want to know how my mum died, I want to know how it happened. I may never know,” she said.

Peggy Patrick. Pic: Margaret Williams
Image: Peggy Patrick. Pic: Margaret Williams

Peggy died on 11 April 2020, exactly a month after visits to her care home were prohibited.

“I do have sympathy with the care home staff, they must have been traumatised,” Mrs Williams added.

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“I don’t know what help they had, or guidance, obviously it was very new for everybody concerned.”

Peggy, who had been diagnosed with dementia, died “within a week of her not being well”, Mrs Williams said.

Peggy Patrick (left) with her daughter Margaret Williams. Pic: Margaret Williams
Image: Peggy Patrick (left) with her daughter Margaret Williams. Pic: Margaret Williams

She wants to see Wales get its own independent COVID inquiry, like there is in Scotland, to scrutinise decisions made by the government in Cardiff.

“During the inquiry I think there was limited time given to each of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and England seemed to have the lion’s share,” she said.

“So we’ve from day one been asking Mark Drakeford for a specific inquiry for Wales which he declined on a number of occasions.”

Mrs Williams says it’s her duty to get answers for her mum.

“I speak for my mum because she has no voice now,” she added.

“I have to speak on her behalf.”

Lauren Jones. Pic: Paul Jones
Image: Lauren Jones. Pic: Paul Jones

‘Exceptionally traumatic’

Paul Jones, 56, from Llwynypia in Rhondda Cynon Taf, lost his daughter during the second wave of the pandemic.

Lauren was only 25 when she died.

Mr Jones and his wife, Karen, tested positive for COVID on 17 December 2020.

While Lauren tested negative at the time, and despite the family strictly following the rules in place, she, too, tested positive some days later.

“I took her to hospital then…and I waited outside for her,” Mr Jones told Sky News.

“I thought they’d give her some strong antibiotics and let her home to recover at home. But they kept her in on the Sunday and then we hardly heard from her.”

Lauren Jones. Pic: Paul Jones
Image: Lauren Jones, with her parents. Pic: Paul Jones

The following day, Lauren called her parents to say she was doing well, but her condition deteriorated.

“She got so bad that they phoned at 11pm on Tuesday and told us that basically she wasn’t going to survive the night and we’d have to switch her life support off,” Mr Jones added.

“Myself and Karen went down then…and we had to switch her life support off in the early hours of the morning.”

Lauren Jones. Pic: Paul Jones
Image: Lauren Jones, with her dog Olly. Pic: Paul Jones

‘She should be coming home’

More than three years since Lauren died, her absence is felt keenly.

“Every day I think about it, I know Karen does as well,” Mr Jones said.

“She lived with us, so just seeing the empty seat in the house every day. When she should be coming home from work, she’s not here.

“The empty seat in the house when we’re watching TV at night, it’s just a constant reminder. She should be here with us, she should be coming home.”

Mr Jones said he and his family “want answers” over his daughter’s death.

Phil Smith died after testing positive for COVID in January 2021. Pic: Sam Smith-Higgins
Image: Phil Smith. Pic: Sam Smith-Higgins

‘Awful, painful death’

Phil Smith, 73, died in January 2021 after catching COVID while in hospital.

He was diagnosed with prostate cancer during lockdown in April 2020, but was not made aware of the diagnosis for several months, his daughter says.

Sam Smith-Higgins, 52, who lives in Cwmbran, Torfaen, told Sky News her father attended hospital in January 2021 and was on a “hot, stuffy ward” for a fortnight.

Mrs Smith-Higgins, who is co-lead of COVID-19 Bereaved Families For Justice Cymru said patients with COVID “were being taken in there”.

“On the day he was due to go home, he tested positive for COVID,” she added.

“I begged them to give him treatment. There was treatment at the time, steroid treatments and what have you, but they didn’t do any of that.

“And six days later he died alone in hospital. A very awful, painful death.”

Mrs Smith-Higgins said she “had to text [her] goodbyes to a nurse”.

“It’s triggering to talk about now. It’s absolutely horrendous. I stood outside the hospital looking up at where I thought he was, on his own, dying.”

Sam Smith-Higgins with her father, Phil Smith, who died after testing positive for COVID. Pic: Sam Smith-Higgins
Image: Sam Smith-Higgins with her father. Pic: Sam Smith-Higgins

Mrs Smith-Higgins said her father, who had just retired, was “an absolute legend”.

“It seems bizarre to me that he’s on my mind more than he was when he was alive, because I kind of feel as though he’s been wronged and I’ve got to keep fighting for him to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone.”

A review conducted by Aneurin Bevan health board, as part of a Welsh government framework, has suggested Mr Smith died from a blood infection, despite COVID-pneumonia being given as his primary cause of death on his death certificate.

The matter has now been referred to the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales.

Mrs Smith-Higgins says she believes it is a way for health boards to “evade paying out compensation, if the inquiry suggests that that’s what should be done”.

A spokesman for Aneurin Bevan University Health Board said its “deepest sympathies” remained with the Smith-Higgins family.

“We have been in regular correspondence with the Smith-Higgins family and will provide the Public Service Ombudsman with any information they require if they decide to investigate,” they added.

Mrs Smith-Higgins also believes that decisions taken in Wales should be further scrutinised by an independent COVID inquiry specifically for the country.

“Wales deserves better, we deserve better. And the cost of not having a Wales COVID inquiry is huge,” she added.

“We’re missing out on the public benefit of learning lessons in Wales.”

Phil Smith died after testing positive for COVID in January 2021. Pic: Sam Smith-Higgins
Image: Pic: Sam Smith-Higgins

A Welsh government spokesperson said its thoughts and sympathies were with “everyone who lost loved ones during the pandemic”.

“Full scrutiny of the decisions made by Welsh ministers and Welsh public services, together with their interconnected nature with those taken by other UK governments, can only be achieved by a comprehensive UK-wide inquiry,” they added.

“Welsh ministers and government officials will be giving detailed evidence to the UK COVID inquiry in Cardiff in the coming weeks.”

Sky News Source