Questions have been raised over Hywel Dda Health Board's use of public funds after a solicitor's letter threatening possible legal action was sent to a hospital campaign group.

The letter to Save Withybush Action Team chairman and consultant obstetrician Chris Overton, dated November 8th, refers to a SWAT leaflet and web publications, which allegedly defamed Hywel Dda bosses.

Solicitors Morgan Cole said its client encouraged debate but was "concerned at the manner in which that debate appears to now be taking place."

The letter also refers to an image of the grim reaper, which it claimed was on SWAT's website, but Mr Overton's response said: "This is held on a website controlled by Mr Peter Milewski, a former member of SWAT, who used to be our webmaster."  

Mr Milewski said: "The poster referred to was one of the original ones dreamed up by SWAT late 2011/early 2012 and was actually the brainchild of its chairman Chris Overton.

"After we resigned from SWAT in early 2012 the posters remained on my website.  As Mr Overton didn't attempt to defend it in his letter I have removed it."

The solicitor's letter had called for the publications to be withdrawn.

In his response, Mr Overton confimed the leaflet was no longer being distributed and the grim reaper image was on another website.

He added: "Whilst we are happy not to use the names in your letter on any future publications that we may produce we will continue to tell the truth about health service provision in our area and will not allow our free speech to be undermined."

Mr Overton told the Western Telegraph he had been warned about legal action during a conversation with an executive member of the health board in August, but added:
"The health board did not want to do this during consultation, yet they are now willing to waste public funds on a defamation case".

Preseli Pembrokeshire AM Paul Davies said: “Is it appropriate that the health board is using tax-payers money to pursue legal issues, whilst at the same time saying that they want an open public debate on health care services in the area?

"The people of Pembrokeshire and groups like SWAT have the right to challenge changes in services, which they believe will put the safety of the public at risk, without the fear of facing legal action."

A spokesman for the health board said: "The health board has a duty to protect employees and the reputation of the NHS and will appropriately seek to address defamatory comments.

"The aim of the letter to SWAT was to have a defamatory leaflet, which included allegations involving both the health board and named individuals, withdrawn from circulation and to prevent any potentially defamatory remarks being used in the future.

"The response from SWAT seems to accept it is inappropriate to attack individuals if there is to be a proper debate about the NHS in west Wales."