Clearer leadership is needed from the Welsh Government to prevent drowning deaths in Wales, according to a Senedd report.
The Petitions Committee has investigated water safety and drowning prevention in Wales after a campaign by Leeanne Bartley from Ruthin saw over 11,000 people sign her petition.
Leeanne’s son, Mark Allen, died after jumping into cold water at Gorton Reservoir, Manchester, in June 2018. Since then, she has campaigned tirelessly for better water safety measures in Wales and across the UK, including the petitions calling for rescue equipment to be mandatory.
The report found that drowning prevention measures are hindered by a lack of coordination from the Welsh Government. In fact, the issue of water safety does not fall under one specific minister’s responsibility and straddles various Government departments.
The Committee has recommended a package of measures to increase awareness of the dangers posed by water and to improve water safety – including allocating a specific minister to lead this work. That would help campaigners deliver one consistent educational message across all of Wales – which experts say is crucial for preventing drowning deaths.
During the seven months the Committee was investigating the issue, at least three young people died from drowning in Wales. It shows that action is needed urgently, says Committee Chair Jack Sargeant MS:
“During our inquiry, we heard from the petitioner and other families who have lost loved ones to drowning. We’ve heard about the devastating impact such a tragedy has had on their lives, but also of their steely determination to raise awareness and prevent future loss of life through drowning.
“Their work is already saving lives – but with clear leadership and coordination from Welsh Government, these campaigns can reach even more people and ultimately, prevent deaths.
“We must do better as a country, and I hope this report will give a boost to all those working hard to do so.”
The inquiry heard evidence from Chris Cousens, Chair of Water Safety Wales. He said:
“Around 50 people a year lose their lives to water-related fatalities in Wales every year. The rate of accidental drowning per head of population here in Wales is around double that of the UK as a whole. The number of accidental drowning deaths, sadly, is also higher than the number of deaths in fires, for example, motorcycle accidents and cycling—three other very high-profile causes of accidental deaths.”
Water Safety Wales brings together individuals and organisations with an interest in water safety and drowning prevention. It worked with the Welsh Government to develop the Wales Drowning Prevention Strategy 2020-2026, with the aim to reduce the number of water-related deaths in Wales reduced to zero.
However, it was noted in the inquiry that this partnership with the Welsh Government needs to be formalised and funding arrangements secured to enable Water Safety Wales to deliver this important work.
The Committee heard about the challenges of installing, maintaining and using throw lines effectively and recognised that they are one of a range of safety measures to consider to mitigate the risks identified in water, and can in some circumstances give a false sense of security.
Leeanne Bartley says she welcomes the report and its recommendations:
“The report is even more than we could have asked for when we started the petition – I’m so thankful to the Senedd for hearing our story and listening to us and the other families that have been affected by drowning deaths.
“But there is still work to be done and I will carry on campaigning – I hope Welsh Government takes these recommendations on board and continues to work with us on water safety.”