A “toxic” culture is to blame for problems highlighted in a damning report into maternity services at two hospitals, according to the boss.
Prof Marcus Longley was speaking following publication of the report which said Royal Glamorgan and Prince Charles hospitals were “dysfunctional”.
The chairman of Cwm Taf health board said: “Clearly we have failed in our task.”
A patient watchdog said its concerns – raised years ago – had been ignored.
The independent review was prompted by concerns over the deaths of a number of babies.
It found services for expectant and new mothers were “under extreme pressure” with patients’ worries often ignored.
Health Minister Vaughan Gething has put Cwm Taf maternity services into special measures which means it will face increased scrutiny but both Welsh Conservatives and Plaid Cymru want him to resign over the issue.
Plaid has also laid a motion of no confidence in Mr Gething, which will be debated next week, saying the “distressing” report into Cwm Taf was “part of a wider pattern of failing”.
Des Kitto, chief officer of the board of Community Health Councils (CHC) in Wales and former chief officer for patient watchdog Cwm Taf CHC, said it was a “horrific report” which was “sickening to the stomach”.
Mr Kitto said the CHC raised concerns about the number of stillbirths and undertook unannounced visits but “didn’t seem to get any results”, so their concerns were escalated to regulators Health Inspectorate Wales which led to the Welsh Government involvement.
In a frank interview with BBC Radio Wales’ Good Morning Wales programme, Mr Longley said he had apologised to 40 people including women and families “let down”, who he met following the report’s publication on Tuesday.
He said it had “sent a shock through the entire organisation”.
“Apologies are empty words if they aren’t faced by action,” he said.
“We have got some complex issues here that have built up over time.
“Clearly we have failed in our task.”
He highlighted one issue raised in the report that “doctors and midwives do not work as a unified team all of the time”.
“That is a really serious issue,” he said. “That has built up over many years.
“It has become custom and practice to work in the wrong way.
“It’s not because we have got wicked or incompetent doctors or midwives at all.
“It’s because those cultures, those working practices are developed which are toxic and we now need to unpack that.
“Now, to go looking for somebody to say, ‘right, it’s your fault, you must go’, I think is to misunderstand what’s been done.
“A lot of measures are now in place. If we have a shake-up of the senior team and people come and go, we will lose some of the momentum that’s now building up.”
He said that some of report’s concerns were “pointed out some time ago… action was taken in many of these issues… but the problems were not solved”.
“We now have to get it sorted. The last 24 hours is a sea change,” he added.
“With special measures will come that level of external scrutiny which will, hopefully, give people assurance that we are not making the same mistakes.”
Paul Davies, the leader of the Welsh Conservatives, has called for several resignations, including Mr Gething.
Speaking on BBC Radio Cymru’s Post Cyntaf programme, he said “the government must take responsibility and we, therefore, need a new health minister” and he also called on the health board chief executive and chairman to resign.
CHC watchdog boss Mr Kitto said: “Trust has been lost. It has got to be action now from the health board, and not words.
“Anybody going in to have a baby… must now be fully aware that they are going into a service that is safe and that will respond to their greatest needs.”
He also said he was unhappy the CHC was not made aware of an internal report by a consultant midwife, produced in September. The independent review criticised Cwm Taf for sitting on it.
“I don’t think we had the full story,” said Mr Kitto.
“I don’t think there was an attempt to mislead, but patients have been let down and the responsibility goes back to the whole board – we should be looking at how they can rebuild the necessary trust.”
Unison Cymru’s head of health Paul Summers said there was a problem with staffing levels and a blame culture meant staff had been too scared to speak out – and those that did, did not feel they were listened to.
“That’s not conducive to providing good patient care – there needs to be lessons learned and hopefully there will be,” he said. “There’s a big job to do in rebuilding the trust and confidence of staff.”
Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board said it had had already been planning changes and since March, specialist neonatal care is now only provided on one site – Prince Charles Hospital. The Royal Glamorgan still has a midwife-led unit for less complicated births.
Chief executive Allison Williams offered a public apology saying she was “deeply sorry for the failings” identified.
She said the health board fully accepted the findings and putting things right was now the organisation’s utmost priority.