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.
Newtown: Online threat to ‘use of firearms at a school’ lead to swift police action
DYFED-POWYS POLICE was made aware this morning, the force said, of “utterly irresponsible and scaremongering posts” on Facebook, suggesting that the authors of the posts were going to use firearms at a school in the Newtown area.
The posts were by individuals local to Newtown, and police acted swiftly to address this, which resulted in the arrest of three local men, aged 20, 21 and 27 on suspicion of malicious communications and public order. As part of the initial response schools were also given advice to be vigilant.
A spokesman said: “Understandably the posts caused serious concern in the area, and unfortunately the subsequent rumours led to misunderstandings. This is turn led to calls to the police alleging there was a man with a firearm seen outside Newtown High School.
“Police had to respond appropriately to these calls based on the threat allegedly posed, and a firearms unit was sent to the school. We can confirm that there was no man at the school, and when we have delved further into the detail of the calls, it has transpired that they were as a result of the rumours circulating, and not based on first-hand accounts.
“Police have also carried out thorough searches as a result of the arrests, and no weapons have been recovered. The local Neighbourhood Policing Team will also be present at the school at home time to reassure and inform parents, pupils and staff.
“We hope this clarification will reassure the community of Newtown that there is no threat to schools in the area, and the matter was dealt with seriously and swiftly. We would also appeal to everyone to stop sharing the posts and any associated rumours, in order to prevent any further unsubstantiated fear and alarm in the area.”
The latest increase in coronavirus in Wales is ‘sobering’ says First Minister
THE FIRST MINISTER, Mark Drakeford has criticised the lack of communication with the UK government as he gave a briefing on what he described as the “sobering” increase in coronavirus cases and hospitalisation in Wales.
The infection rate in Wales has risen to 23.6 infections for every 100k people as cases have spiked in areas including Merthyr, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Caerphilly and Newport.
Hospitalisations remain low but are rising, with five people currently in intensive care with Covid-19 and and 53 Covid patients on all hospital wards, according to the latest data from Public Health Wales from Sunday, September 13.
Mr Drakeford said that the number of people in hospital with coronavirus had risen to 41 with four people in intensive care.
He also said that the R number in Wales was almost certainly now above one – meaning the virus is spreading exponentially again. The latest estimate, he said, was between 0.7 and 1.2.
Mr Drakeford said: “In this most difficult week, there has been no meeting offered to First Ministers of any sort. Since the 28 May, there has been just one brief telephone call from the Prime Minister.
“This is simply unacceptable to anyone who believes that we ought to be facing the coronavirus crisis together.
“We need a regular, reliable, rhythm of engagement: a reliable meeting even once a week would be a start. I make this argument not because we should all do the same things, but because being round the same table allows each of us to make the best decisions for the nations we represent.
“There is a vacancy at the heart of the United Kingdom, and it needs urgently to be filled, so we can talk to each other, share information, pool ideas and demonstrate a determination that the whole of the country can face these challenges together at this most difficult time.”
WASPI unaffected by appeal’s failure
A CAMPAIGN group for women born in the 1950s, whose state pension age has increased from 60-65, lost an appeal against a decision to deny them compensation for lost pension income.
Backto60 brought two test cases to the High Court last year when those cases were lost the group appealed. The Court of Appeal released its judgement rejecting the appeal on Monday, September 14.
The group’s campaign calls for a reinstatement of the age of 60 for women’s state pensions and compensation of the pension women have missed out on.
The Court found making the state pension age the same for men and women did not constitute unlawful discrimination.
WASPI CAMPAIGN UNCHANGED
The case’s failure will not affect the far better known and more widely-supported Women Against State Pensions Injustice (WASPI) campaign.
WASPI has long campaigned on the issues regarding the increase in the state pension age for women. They argue that setting aside any claim of discrimination, the UK Government failed in its duty to inform affected women adequately of the changes to the state pension age and the effect those changes would have on their pensions.
A statement issued by WASPI after the Backto60 legal challenge failed said: “Many women will be disappointed today at the judgement from the High Court.
“Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) will continue to campaign for what we believe is achievable and affordable. Compensation for women who have been unfairly disadvantaged with a rapid increase to their State Pension age (SPa).
“WASPI is not opposed to the equalisation of the SPa with men but it was done without adequate notice, leaving no time to make alternative arrangements. Women were informed directly some 14 years after the SPa was first changed, many only given 18 months’ notice, of up to a six-year increase, many others were not informed at all. This left their retirement plans shattered.
“The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman is currently considering six sample cases of maladministration out of the thousands of complaints made to the DWP by WASPI women.”
Former Conservative Pensions Minister, Baroness Roz Altmann, said: “When Pensions Minister, I saw copies of letters written by the Government to millions of these women in 2003 and 2004 about their State Pension, which failed to highlight that their pension would not be paid at age 60. These official letters failed to highlight that these women’s pension would not start being paid at age 60. It merely informed them what State Pension they might receive when they reached State Pension Age, but they did not tell them what that age would be!
“Receiving a letter from the Pensions Department about their State Pension, which did not urge them to check what their State Pension Age would be, may have lulled them into a false sense of security that they would receive it from age 60.
“This looks like maladministration.”
During the election campaign last year, Boris Johnson pledged to place ‘fresh eyes’ on the issue and said he felt sympathetic to the WASPI campaigners. Asked on Tuesday about the progress of those promised considerations, he failed to answer.
THE APPEAL ISSUE
The main issue in the appeal was whether the changes to the state pension age brought in by Parliament from 1995 onwards, unlawfully discriminated against women. Backto60 argued, amongst other things, women born in the 1950s were less likely to have contributed to the state pension scheme or were disproportionately in lower-paid jobs than men.
The Pensions Act 1995 provided that a woman born before 6 April 1950 would still receive her state pension at age 60 but a woman born after that date would receive her pension on a specified date when she was aged between 60 and 65, depending on her date of birth. The Pensions Acts 2007, 2011 and 2014 then accelerated the move to age 65 as the state pension age for women and raised the state pension age for some men and women to 66, 67 or 68 depending on their date of birth.
Successive UK Governments made changes to address the massively-rising cost of state pensions.
When the state pension age was originally set, both pension ages were fixed at 65. When revised in 1940, women’s pension age was dropped to 60. At the time those ages were fixed, life expectancy meant the state pension was likely to be paid out for only a few years after retirement age. The lower age was fixed at 60 for women to reflect their then-dependence on a single male breadwinner in the family and the prevailing age difference between married couples.
In the post-war period, life expectancy increased, first gradually and then with increasing speed.
The boom in average life expectancy means the state pension is the largest single drain on the welfare budget – taking £111bn of it in the year 2018-19 (DWP figures). In comparison, payments for unemployment benefits totalled £2bn.
The UK Defence budget is around £28bn
In normal circumstances, the claims brought to the Court would have been barred due to the delay in bringing them. Time was extended to bring the claims. The question of the delay was, however, relevant only to the discretion whether to grant relief if unlawful discrimination was proved.
The long delay in bringing the claims made it impossible to fashion any practical remedy. The Court noted unchallenged expert evidence that the cost of reinstating pensions would exceed £200bn – more than seven times the total defence budget and around the same as the whole of the health and education budgets combined (Figures Office of Budget Responsibility).
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