Over One thousand people turned up to protest about cuts to services at Withybush, Sunday January 26. The protesters marched from Sir Thomas Picton School to the hospital to vent their anger at cuts to services. Outside the hospital the crowd, estimated to be approaching nearly 1200 people, held placards and banners, chanted, and sang the Welsh national anthem. Many Pembrokeshire residents say they fear that the lives of women and babies would be at risk if a level-two neonatal unit was developed at Carmarthen as a replacement for the current unit at Withybush Hospital.
A motorbike accident, which closed the A40 for most of the day on Saturday January 25 has raised concerns that it would not be safe to rely on the single-carriageway road to transfer urgent cases from Haverfordwest to Carmarthen, over thirty miles away.
Chris Overton, the chairman of the Save Withybush Action Team, who organised the protest, said that the turnout showed the “strength of feeling of people in Pembrokeshire” Mr Overton , who is a consultant obstetrician at Withybush Hospital, later told the press: “I’ve coined a new phrase, the Sutton Test, after a woman called Kate Sutton from Johnston who lost her baby and nearly died. I ask you whether someone in a similar position will be safe when the new system is in place. I don’t think that they would be. I think that everyone is concerned more and more across the county that these services are going to be cut.”
Speaking at the demonstration, Stephen Crabb MP said to the Herald: “There is an enormous sense of anger amongst the crowd, people from all walks of life, all across the county, voicing their frustration and their fears of what the future will look like without the essential service of SCBU on our doorstep.”
The hospital changes announced are part of a new system, where doctors in Carmarthen will provide specialist care, with other hospitals eventually providing a midwife-led service. Bronglais hospital in Aberystwyth will become a midwife-led maternity unit, although during the transition period it will also retain some consultants.
The plans were initially revealed a year ago by the health board, but were vetoed by the local patients’ watchdog over concerns that closing the special care baby unit in Haverfordwest could put lives at risk. That meant Health Minister Mark Drakeford had to step in to review the decision himself, and he has taken advice from a panel of experts.
The panel advising Mr Drakeford indicated providing special baby care units across the health board was “neither safe nor sustainable”, but the protestors say its unsafe to cut services due to the time it takes to get mums and babies from Pembrokeshire to the new proposed unit in Carmarthenshire.