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Withybush paediatric care gone for good in yet another blow for hospital

OVER seven years after “temporarily” closing Withybush’s 24-hour Paediatric Ambulatory Care Unit (PACU), Hywel Dda UHB decided to close the department permanently on Thursday, November 30.

In January, the Board will meet to receive the plan for its implementation plan to make the change permanent.

A FOREGONE CONCLUSION

Describing the Board’s decision as a foregone conclusion would be grossly unfair. But, as Thursday’s meeting chugged along, it became clear it was.

Bluntly, the Board has neither the money, resources, nor staff to return paediatric care to Withybush. It didn’t have them before the consultation began. In the interim period, the only thing that changed was the catastrophically worse financial performance that led to the Board being subject to enhanced monitoring by the Welsh Government.

The Board’s ability to deliver its preferred option, which included returning some outpatient services for children to Withybush, is doubtful.

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However, it now needs a plan to implement its plan. That plan to have a plan for its implementation plan will be discussed in January when the Board will discuss the planned plan for a plan.

If the planned plan for a plan doesn’t work out, the Board will go back to the drawing board to draw up another plan for its plan.

A “TEMPORARY” PROBLEM

In three years, the Board moved from a 24/7 service to a promise to return to a 12/7 service to a bold attempt to preserve an 8/7 service.

As our columnist Badger noted five years ago, the next step was bound to be a 0/7 service.

And then Covid came along.

PACU was closed, and its services “temporarily” transferred to Glangwili during the pandemic.

At the end of the pandemic, PACU didn’t return.

Instead, the Board justified its continued cessation because of the risk of a spike in respiratory viruses.

When that spike didn’t happen, the Board consulted on a “permanent solution”.

And that permanent solution – as glaringly obvious for years – was permanent closure.

A DECADE OF WORTHLESS REASSURANCE

In 2014, the Board stopped providing 24-hour paediatric care at Withybush. At the time, it said that a 12-hour provision was deliverable, and it planned to return 24-hour paediatric care to Withybush once it recruited clinical staff.

By then, there was only ONE advert for a single paediatric consultant at Withybush and NONE for nurses specialising in paediatric care.

At one point at the end of 2015, the Board suspended its recruitment campaign for posts at WithyWithybush’s after claiming to have recruited staff to fill vacancies there. It announced an intention to launch a more focused campaign later.

In November 2016, the Board restated its commitment to maintaining the Paediatric Ambulatory Care Unit’s opening hours at Withybush from 10am-10pm, even though it faced “renewed and significant workforce challenges at the consultant level”.

In 2017, CEO Steve Moore said the Board was clear: “The changes to paediatric services are temporary and in response to us needing to ensure a safe and reliable service for our families with the consultant paediatricians available.”

After ending the 12-hour PACU cover, the Board did not launch an effort to recruit for three months after its closure.

By the end of the same year, the Board said: “Unfortunately, we have not been able to recruit a sufficient number of consultants to support the re-establishment of the 12-hour PACU service, although our recruitment efforts continue.

“In the meantime, the Health Board is working with staff and partners to explore a number of ideas to support a sustainable PACU service for the longer term.”

In 2018, the Community Health Council issued a report.

It said: “The health board needs to do all it can to resolve the current temporary reduced hours arrangements in PACU”.

CONSULT THE PUBLIC, THEN IGNORE THEM

Thursday’s meeting continued to offer mealy-mouthed platitudes instead of health services.

Board members suggested that parents of children in need of paediatric care would be reassured by the clarity the permanent removal of a key service from Pembrokeshire would provide.

Discussing the lack of transport options, Board members said they would publicise the availability of the Designated Ambulance Vehicle and the use of a taxi service to ferry children and parents from Glangwili.

The disconnection between the Pembrokeshire public and the Board over the issues could not be more complete.

Board members said that the main problem with the attitude of Pembrokeshire’s concerned parents was communication.

Pembrokeshire’s respondents to the Board’s conscientious rubber-stamping process were clear the issue was not communication but concern about timely treatment close to home.

70% said PACU should return to Withybush. The Board’s alternative, closing PACU for good, was overwhelmingly rejected.

If communication were the issue, not the provision of treatment at Withybush, the Board could have resolved it by being straightforward and transparent.

It wasn’t.

All the communication in the world, delivered by the best communicators money can buy, cannot circumvent that epic failure of honesty.

Describing the Board’s decision as a foregone conclusion would be grossly unfair. But, as the meeting ground on, it became clear it was.

Bluntly, the Board has neither the money, resources, nor staff to return paediatric care to Withybush. It didn’t have them before the consultation began. In the interim period, the only thing that changed was the catastrophically worse financial performance that led to the Board being subject to enhanced monitoring by the Welsh Government.

TOTAL DISCONNECTION

Board members suggested that parents of children in need of paediatric care would be reassured by the clarity the permanent removal of a key service from Pembrokeshire would provide.

Discussing the lack of transport options, Board members said they would publicise the availability of the Designated Ambulance Vehicle and the use of a taxi service to ferry children and parents from Glangwili.

The disconnection between the Pembrokeshire public and the Board over the issues could not be more complete.

Board members said that the main problem with the attitude of Pembrokeshire’s concerned parents was communication.

Pembrokeshire’s respondents to the Board’s conscientious rubber-stamping process were clear the issue was not communication but concern about timely treatment close to home.

If communication was the issue, not the provision of treatment at Withybush, the Board could have resolved issues by being honest and transparent from the outset. It wasn’t. All the communication in the world, delivered by the best communicators money can buy, cannot circumvent that epic failure.

PERMANENT CLOSURE “BETTER”

Six years ago, “temporary” became the status quo.

Then “temporary” became a further “temporary reduction”. During Covid, the whole service was “temporarily” withdrawn.

So intense was Board members’ collective delusion at Thursday’s meeting that the permanent removal of the PACU service and its replacement with a vague promise of some outpatient clinics for children returning to Withybush sometime over the rainbow was represented as an improvement on the current position.

Even this Thursday morning, the current position was “temporary”, not permanent.

The Health Board’s thesaurus must look very peculiar.

Its word games demonstrate the extent to which the Board had long dispensed with the pretence of PACU’s closure temporary nature.

In the meantime, the Board plans to tell more people about its Dedicated Ambulance Vehicle and plans to fund taxis for distressed parents and sick and injured children.

You can bet that’ll make everything better.

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