AMs debate 40,000+ signature petition against hospital downgrade

(Title Image: Wales Online)

Yesterday, AMs debated a petition against the downgrading of services at Withybush Hospital in Haverfordwest on the same day Hywel Dda health board rubber stamped the controversial hospital reorganisation proposals – more details here.

P-05-826 Pembrokeshire says NO!! To the closure of Withybush A&E! (sic)
Submitted by Myles Bamford-Lewis
Signatures: 40,045

Petition Supporting Evidence

  • Hospital reorganisations by Hywel Dda health board would result in the significant downgrading of Withybush Hospital in Haverfordwest.
  • The proposals include a new Critical Care Centre in the Whitland area; the travel times and ambulance response times could put patients in Pembrokeshire at risk.
  • Several other services – including consultant led maternity services and specialist neonatal and baby units – have already been lost from the hospital.

The Chair of the Petitions Committee, UKIP’s David Rowlands, said this was the most signed petition ever received by the Senedd and it was a shame the debate couldn’t have been scheduled ahead of the board meeting.

A Dark Day

Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.) said it was a “dark day” for Pembrokeshire.

“The health board’s current consultation is simply the latest in a long string of attempts to continuously remove services at Withybush Hospital in recent years, and, to be perfectly frank, the local people are sick and tired of having to fight to maintain essential services at their local hospital.”
– Paul Davies AM

This outcome was predicted when other services were downgraded and he blamed the Welsh Government for not doing enough to attract medical staff to the area.

Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn) cited research that showed centalisation of A& E services had little effect on outcomes and that for every 10km further away from A&E a person is, there’s a 1% greater mortality risk.

A Difficult Issue

Lee Waters AM (Lab, Llanelli) – who successfully campaigned to retain services at Prince Philip Hospital – said this was about ensuring services were sustainable in 10 years time and hospitals in the region were already struggling. He was sceptical that the greater use of technology (such as video conferencing) cited by the health board will be in place on time based on the limited NHS IT progress to date.

“It always focuses on Withybush being downgraded—one of Wales’s furthest flung hospitals, serving one of Wales’s furthest flung populations: a population that is disproportionately elderly compared to the Welsh national average. What do elderly people tend to have in common? They don’t tend to be hugely IT literate. They often don’t have access to their own vehicles. They find public transport difficult and exhausting to use. ‘But, hey, guess what, all you dear old folk of Pembrokeshire? We’re going to move your hospital further away from the kinds of services that you might need.'”
– Angela Burns AM (Con, Carms. W. & S. Pembs.)

Mike Hedges AM (Lab, Swansea East) stressed the long journey times facing patients and believes the case for dualling the A40 was now much stronger.

Helen Mary Jones AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) added there was mistrust of Hywel Dda health board going back to her previous time as an AM and petitioners’ concerns need to be heeded going forward.

Joyce Watson AM (Lab, Mid & West Wales) spoke out in favour of change:

“….should we, without thought, be turning down what could be an absolute opportunity to build a hospital in west Wales that might solve all of the problems and bring massive investment in the change that people will needi n 10 or 20 years’ time that will last for the next, maybe, 30, 40 or 50 years ….?”
– Joyce Watson AM

Not the end

Health Secretary, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth), told AMs the health board’s decision still needs Community Health Council approval. Nevertheless, he was in no doubt that reforms were necessary even in the face of political opposition:

“….The adage ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ could not be more inappropriate, because, in healthcare, waiting until ‘it’ is broken means waiting until real, avoidable harm is caused and no public servant should contemplate doing that.


“….So, we either engage in that debate now and confront some of those challenges and then help to make clinically led choices, or we put that off and make it even less likely that change will happen until a point of crisis and a service collapses, and I do not think that is a responsible thing to do.”
– Health Secretary, Vaughan Gething

He might have to make the final decision if there’s no local agreement.

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