A review into standards of maternity care at Cwm Taf health board will begin “within weeks”, the health secretary has told AMs.
Vaughan Gething said the health board’s own inquiry, which began last week, was now looking into 44 serious incidents, one more than previously announced.
The cases include 20 stillbirths and six deaths shortly after birth.
Mr Gething said he could not give a timetable for the external review’s completion.
He told the Senedd he wanted to give specialists from the Royal Colleges of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and Midwifery the freedom to consider more cases, with the option to cover a longer time period than the health board.
As a result, Mr Gething said he did not want to set an “artificial timetable”, but wanted to see the review concluded “as promptly as possible”.
The Welsh Government announced the external review last Friday after significant questions emerged about standards of maternity care in the Cwm Taf area.
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The health board previously said it was conducting its own investigation into 43 serious incidents where mothers or babies had faced “adverse outcomes” since January 2016.
It is understood some of the cases involved issues around the monitoring of mothers and babies.
Problems came to light because there were concerns maternity staff were reporting or flagging up fewer serious incidents.
The health board has said it would share the details of its own investigation with each of the families involved.
Meanwhile, the health secretary told AMs he expected the board to be fully “open and transparent” and that the external review would provide assurances it was not “marking its own work”.
There have been longstanding concerns about a shortage of maternity staff in the Cwm Taf area and the board said it had been “very challenging” to keep staff numbers at the right levels.
It was reported last week that antenatal classes in the area had been postponed so midwives could be drafted in to help colleagues in hospitals.
Mr Gething told AMs he expected those classes to be “reinstated” within weeks as new recruits, including 15 new midwives, begin work.
The health secretary also told AMs officials were not aware of similar concerns elsewhere in Wales, but the chief nurse had written to all health boards asking for assurances, within two weeks, about standards of maternity care across the country.