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Winter ops axe causes outrage

withybushhosp-5464760HYWEL Dda Local Health Board announced controversial plans this week to make major cutbacks to winter services that will profoundly affect patients awaiting operations at Withybush Hospital.
The decision has enraged local politicians, as well as a leading union, along with scores of patients who will be adversely affected by these cuts.
In a press release issued on their web site, the Hywel Dda LHB said: “The Health Board has a responsibility to ensure continued safe care at this time of increased pressure, and is putting plans in place now to respond to the anticipated increase in activity over the winter season.
‘’In previous winters, we had up to 160 additional beds in place often being managed by temporary staff. This is not a position we can sustain this year. To address this, we propose to manage our bed stock and elective surgical lists in a better way during the busiest months this winter to ensure we have the staff capacity to manage emergencies and the most urgent patients.
‘’We would like to reassure patients that if they have an urgent clinical need they will be seen. Emergency and cancer procedures, the vast majority of orthopaedic day surgery and other elective procedures will also continue.”
The proposals announced by the Health Board state that the use of theatres will be for those with the highest clinical need and they will be reviewing and re-profiling patients on orthopaedic waiting lists, as well as increasing day surgery cases and maximising alternative methods of treatment through non-surgical pathways.
They further state they will monitor the position on a weekly basis and review that position towards the end of the winter surge. There will also be a non-emergency surgical shutdown for two weeks over Christmas.
One such patient awaiting surgery is Angela Burns, Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire AM, who is highly critical of the proposals.
She told The Herald: “This shutdown will unfairly hit the elderly and vulnerable hardest, many of whom would have been waiting for months already. While conditions requiring orthopaedic surgery may not be life threatening, the constant pain, loss of mobility and pure daily effort to live with these conditions is immense.
‘’The thought of waiting another six months for my own knee replacement fills me with dread, and I know there are many, many more in far worse situations and far more pain than myself. I cannot begin to comprehend the feelings of some people who attend my surgeries to tell me that they cannot stand long enough to cook, and rely on ready meals alone.
‘’My heart goes out to these patients and their families and I will fight loudly and consistently against these plans. Labour’s record-breaking cuts and its failure to recruit staff are hampering hardworking staff and I urge ministers to put an end to these mistakes”.
The Health Service union, UNISON, reacted angrily to the Health Board plans and, Branch Chairperson, Wendy Evans, said: “The Health Board already has a waiting time of 15 months for patients awaiting orthopaedic surgery. This will clearly add at least another five to six months to their waiting time, causing further distress and possibly further complications to their condition”.
She went on to say that UNISON had immediately written to the Health Minister, Mr Mark Drakeford to complain about the decision. UNISON also suggested that, in staff meetings at Prince Philip Hospital of this week, the Orthopaedic consultant surgeons were also deeply critical of the plans.
UNISON Regional Organiser, Jeff Baker, said: “This is another example of the Health Board making a unilateral decision on service changes without properly consulting either the staff or the community.”
Liberal Democrat, William Powell, AM for Mid and West Wales, has called for clarity following UNISON’s claims, that all planned orthopaedic surgery for the four main hospitals in the Hywel Dda Health Board area have been cancelled until April 2014.
He said: “The Welsh Labour Government and local Health Boards seem surprised that winter comes around every year. Cold weather and snow can cause difficulties in the NHS but proper planning would ensure that patients are treated all year round.
‘’Many people who are waiting for orthopaedic surgery often have to endure months in pain. It is not right that they have to wait even longer because of the Welsh Labour Government’s incompetence. This is not an acceptable way to run a National Health Service”.
Plaid Cymru AM Simon Thomas, who sits on the all-party Finance Committee of the National Assembly, added his concern: “The scrapping of non-urgent surgery is bitterly disappointing for my constituents. It is disappointing that saving money comes before ensuring people get their operations, when the Welsh NHS has had extra money in their budgets this year.
‘’Earlier this year, Plaid Cymru highlighted the lack of action by Welsh Health Boards to recruit more doctors and more nurses from across the European Union.”
The Herald spoke exclusively to Pam O’Dare, one of the unfortunate patients who are likely to be told their wait for hip surgery is to be extended as a result of these cut backs.
She reacted angrily to what she sees as grim news: “I was under the impression my surgery would be in December or January. Now, it is likely to be put back to April 2014, and it might be a lot further on than that.
‘’I had a hip replacement four years ago and the surgeons were excellent, but the wait is very painful. The pain can be very bad and I am taking some very strong painkillers. I have a high pain threshold but this is unbearable. Why is it always about cut backs for patients?”
The Welsh Government appeared to have been caught on the hop by Hywel Dda LHB’s announcement. At questions in the Senedd, First Minister Carwyn Jones revealed he was given 24 hours’ notice of its content.
The Herald contacted the Welsh Government for further comment: “The Health Minister stated at a recent Health and Social Services Committee meeting that his expectation is for winter plans to be published by individual health boards, once they have been through clearance with their individual boards. We are writing to health boards confirming this expectation.”
Meanwhile, patients like Pam O’Dare and AM, Angela Burns, wait to find out what effect these proposals will have on an already lengthy waiting time.