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‘Fog of confusion’ about Withybush Plans

fog of confusionUNCERTAINTY CONTINUES to dog the future of maternity, paediatric and specialist baby care at Withybush General Hospital, Haverfordwest.

Speaking to The Pembrokeshire Herald, Stephen Crabb, the MP for Preseli Pembrokeshire, said:

“In recent weeks the fog of confusion around the future of vital services at Withybush has got worse, with neither the Hywel Dda Health Board nor the Welsh Health Minister being willing or able to come clean on their true intentions. The Pembrokeshire rumour mill is in overdrive about changes at Withybush and the local community is rightly concerned and angry. This is the biggest issue facing our County and it is time for Welsh Government in Cardiff to hold the Health Board to account and provide certainty and assurance.”

As The Pembrokeshire Herald revealed last week, staff have already been consulted about a planned shift of services from Withybush to West Wales General Hospital, Glangwili. BBC news picked up the story this week and confirmed with Hywel Dda Local Health Board that talks were taking place with hospital staff.

Campaign groups set up

SEVERAL campaigning groups have been set up on Facebook to fight the closures and a public meeting is to be held at The Picton Centre in Haverfordwest this evening (Thursday, November 21) with a view to setting up a fighting fund to resist any closures or relocation of maternity and paediatric services.

The number of people who have joined the on-line campaign groups at the time this article goes to press is just under 20,000.

In January 2013, Pembrokeshire’s Best Magazine revealed that out of 1,567 responses to the ORS consultation on the Health Board’s plans for Withybush, only 9% of respondents in Pembrokeshire (150 people) favoured the Board’s proposal to close SCBU and transfer all care for high dependence neonates, complex ante-natal and perinatal care out of the County to Glangwili. In spite of the level of opposition shown to their plans, the Local Health Board’s decision announced on January 15 was to proceed with its plans, but to retain some paediatric and obstetric services at Withybush “subject to recruiting staff”.

Speaking to The Herald last week with reference to the potential loss of services due to loss of birth numbers at Withybush, the a spokeswoman from the Hywel Dda Health Board said:

“We are at significant risk of losing training posts if we cannot find solutions. Services may become too fragile unless we plan for the future.

“The neonatal element was referred to Welsh Government and the Health Board was requested to provide further details on our models for gynaecology and obstetrics which is being addressed by this ongoing planning work.”

Further criticism of LHB

THE HEALTH BOARD has been separately criticised by Ceredigion AM for delays in recruitment:

“I have been made increasingly aware of recruitment delays across the Hywel Dda region. In some cases such as recently at Ysbyty Bronglais I’m told of instances where six months after the employment process began, nurses have still not been able to take up new posts.

“Delays in appointing key staff members undermine the vital services offered by the Health Board, increase waiting times, erode public confidence and make it even harder to recruit staff in the future.

“The Welsh Government must work closely with the Local Health Boards across Wales to ensure the process is expedited and that residents get the health service they need and deserve.”

AM’s request for scrutiny denied

A REQUEST from local Assembly Member Paul Davies to publicly scrutinise the future of services at Withybush hospital has been denied.

This follows the latest news that overnight paediatric services at the Withybush hospital could be closed. Mr Davies tabled an urgent question to the Welsh Health Minister given the substantial knock-on effect that this closure would have on the hospital’s obstetrics department, A & E department and the Special Care Baby Unit.

Mr Davies said, “This latest news has further escalated concerns in Pembrokeshire that Withybush hospital is signalled for downgrading. Sadly, my request to scrutinise the Health Minister on this has been turned down. Unfortunately, I have repeatedly called for statements from the Welsh Government in relation to Hywel Dda Health Board’s plans, all of which have been denied.”

He added, “This news will once again renew fears over the hospital’s future, and it’s time that the Welsh Government provided certainty and reassurances for west Wales patients. Anything less is unacceptable. Residents will rightly be worried about the potential closure of overnight paediatric services and the effect that it will have on the sustainability of other core services at Withybush. I will of course, keep raising these issues in the Assembly Chamber in the hope that Welsh Labour Ministers will come clean on the future of Withybush hospital as soon as possible.”

Concern from Haverfordwest Town Council

AT THE Haverfordwest Town Council meeting last night councillors discussed the situation regarding Withybush Hospital.

Town Clerk David Williams said “There are serious concerns about what is happening at Withybush Hospital. We don’t know what the proposals are at the moment and the future of the hospital is in the balance.

“Our intentions are to write to the trust and health minister to clarify what the situation is”.

SWAT has suggested that the situation is the thin end of the wedge in relation to other services. A SWAT leaflet sent to The Pembrokeshire Herald claims, amongst other things:Emergency cover for ALL specialities may reduce to 16 hours each day. Date of implementation unknown at present but maybe January 1, 2014. This would mean patients already in hospital would be safe as on call doctors would be on site but with no A&E facility from perhaps midnight people who became ill overnight or have an accident in the community would be taken directly to Glangwili.

SCBU, Paediatrics and Obstetrics will move to Glangwili in March 2014. This means that there will be NO beds to admit children, babies or pregnant women at Withybush except for very low risk mothers to be.

Anyone needing admission will have to be taken to Glangwili.

A&E will be reduced to 12 hours during the day from April 1, 2014. This means that Withybush will not be able to take any emergency patients overnight and they will all have to be taken to Glangwili for assessment and admission if appropriate.

The leaflet calls on people to demonstrate in support of maintaining services at Withybush outside the hospital every Saturday morning at 11:00 am from January 4, 2014. It also asks for support for a potential legal action to prevent the Health Board’s plans from proceeding.

Joyce Watson AM told us: “I totally support the plan for a Level 2 neo-natal unit in the Hywel Dda area, as we do not currently have one. Withybush maternity unit is the crucial missing piece of the puzzle, however. Until Hywel Dda submits its proposal to the Welsh Government we cannot assess the overall plan.

“What is clear is that Withybush must retain a service that can stabilise mother and baby when complications occur. That is absolutely critical – a red line – and I have consistently urged that point in my discussions with both the Health Board and the Government.”

The Local Health Board responds

In response to the BBC News story, the Health Board released a statement saying:

“The health board can confirm that no instruction has been given to book expectant mothers due in March or April into Glangwili Hospital instead of Withybush Hospital. If any mother has any queries about their booking they are advised to speak to their midwife directly.

“The health board was instructed by the Health Minister in September to clarify the delivery model for obstetric and paediatric services that would be provided to support a Level 2 neonatal unit before a final Ministerial decision is made in relation to new born services.

“The health board is committed to openly discussing the current situation with staff and so meetings are taking place at a hospital, county and health board-wide level.

“The ongoing work with our clinical teams is based on clarifying the service model, taking into account the many service inter-dependencies.

“Proposed models will be submitted to Welsh Government in the next few weeks…the health board’s position [is] that members of staff have not been informed of any final decisions as none have been made.”
Chris Overton of SWAT told The Herald

“Last Tuesday morning the midwifery manager told midwives on the wards that from March there would be a midwifery led service at Withybush. At the same time, the Paediatric Manager told staff that SCBU, paediatric services and Ward 9 admissions would all go to Carmarthen, as that was where paediatric trainee doctors would be based.”

The Pembrokeshire Herald asked for a response from the Welsh Government, shortly before we went to press a spokesperson for Health Minister Mark Drakeford told The Herald:

“This is a matter for the Local Health Board and we have no comment to make on it, at this time.Rebecca Evans AM, Assembly Member for Mid and West Wales said:

“I am obviously concerned by the recent reports, and am seeking clarity from the Health Board because continued speculation and rumour is unhelpful for both patients and our NHS staff.

“The Health Board is due to submit its detailed proposed models to Welsh Government in the next few weeks, and I would expect that those plans should be clinically robust and developed in close collaboration with clinicians and expert obstetricians. I look forward to scrutinising the plans.

“Patient safety – both for the expectant mother and the baby – has to be the overriding concern.”

Mrs Evans is currently seeking reassurances from the Health Board on a number of matters, including that that there is no truth in the reports that all expectant mothers due to give birth after 1 April are being booked into Glangwili Hospital.

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Dayne Stone

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