Members of a patients' watchdog defending health services for the people of Pembrokeshire are being threatened with legal action by the company behind last year's public consultation.

Solicitors acting for Opinion Research Services Ltd (ORS), which conducted research for the health board, have written to Hywel Dda Community Health Council (CHC), its chairman Tony Wales and vice chairman Dr Gabrielle Heathcote, accusing them of making defamatory statements in a CHC response to health plans sent to the Welsh Government.

The information was revealed on the website of Pembrokeshire county councillor Jacob Williams

ORS carried out work for Hywel Dda Health Board (HDHB) during its listening and engagement exercise and then a formal consultation of the future of healthcare in the area last year.

Concerns were raised at public and CHC meetings about the consultation process and the way results were weighted and analysed, as well as fears that the 'consultation was for consultation's sake'.

These issues, along with others, were included in an official referral to then health minister Lesley Griffiths and published online.

Solicitors Morgan La Roche, state that the 'assertions are firmly rejected.

The letter claims the company’s reputation has been “unjustly injured, it would plainly appear, as deliberate or reckless collateral damage in the CHC’s attack upon the HDHB”.

“This is utterly unacceptable and ORS will not stand for it, because a libel of such a kind is seriously damaging to its reputation.”

Lawyers said ORS requires “the deletion of the words complained of from the referral document, an undertaking to not repeat the same or similar comments, publication of a full and unreserved apology as well as ‘appropriate compensation for the libel and ORS’ legal costs’.”

“If these requirements are not met, the CHC ought to be in no doubt whatsoever that ORS will commence legal proceedings”, it concludes.

County Councillor Jacob Williams, who revealed the legal threat on his website,

said: “Who knows what effect this latest twist will have on the CHC’s referral to the minister, but it’s worth remembering that the members of this patients’ watchdog are all volunteers, and one of the comments left on my website by a reader after I broke this news sums it up quite well: ‘no good deed goes unpunished’.”
The CHC said it was unable to comment at this time. 


Referral sent back by minister

The CHC's referral has since been sent back by Mrs Griffiths, just hours before she was moved from the health minister role, stating discussions between the CHC and the health board must continue.

She said there were 'several inconstancies between the case you make and the National Guidance for Engagement and Consultation on changes to Health Services'.

She said that alternatives must be proposed and local resolution must be sought with referral to ministers a last resort.

A deadline of April 5th to reassess and discuss the proposals has been extended by two weeks by the new health minister Mark Drakeford.