ON THE WEEKEND that Hywel Dda LHB acknowledged that Accident and Emergency Services at Withybush Hospital were “under extreme pressure”, protesters gathered outside to protest about plans to downgrade maternity and paediatric provision at the Hospital.
The timing could scarcely have been worse for the Health Board to make such an announcement. With minor injury units closed in Tenby and Pembroke Dock within the last twelve months, ostensibly to ensure full A & E service provision at Withybush, the Health Board’s request to “Choose Well” and rely on GP’s and pharmacist fuelled the concerns of over 700 protesters gathered at the hospital gates.
“Only go to A&E if you really need it,” said a spokesperson for the health board.
“The public are therefore being urged to help reduce the pressures by ‘Choosing Well’ to ensure busy emergency services are available to those who most need them, but also that you get the right treatment, in the right place and in the shortest possible time.”
Hywel Dda LHB refused permission for protesters to stand in the hospital car park. Those protesting by the hospital gates expressed fears that the downgrading of key services at Withybush represents the thin edge of the wedge. The mood was angry but determined as speaker after speaker heralded the importance of Withybush’s services to Pembrokeshire and condemned the Local Health Board’s plans to downgrade services. Speaking after the rally, Paul Davies said “The protest outside the hospital on Saturday demonstrates the huge strength of feeling against closing the Special Care Baby Unit and the opposition to the potential downgrading of other services in Pembrokeshire. Local people are angry that life saving and core emergency services could be under threat. I want to congratulate residents for turning out on Saturday to show their support. It’s essential that in Pembrokeshire we all work together to ensure that vital life-saving services are retained in the County.”
Plaid Cymru’s Preseli candidate John Osmond, also joined protesters against service cuts at Withybush Hospital.
Speaking to the hundreds of local people, John said; “We won the fight to save Withybush hospital in 2007 and, together, we can win the fight again.
“When Withybush was last under threat, in the run-up to the 2007 Assembly election the main response I heard on the doorstep was that there was nothing we could do – the decision had already been made. But my message then was that we can make a difference if we stand up to be counted and use our vote. If there’s one thing politicians take note of, it’s the ballot box.”
Vicky Moller told The Pembrokeshire Herald: “Storms at Newgale beach hurled a wall of pebbles from the beach to cover the A487 on January 5th. The road was closed causing a long cross-country diversion along single lane roads.
Alternatively a wider diversion meant a 24 mile journey to Haverfordwest and a 54 mile journey to Glangwili.
“This is just one example of the hold-ups that often happen in Pembrokeshire, due to traffic in the summer, storms in the winter, road works in between.
“Hywel Dda LHB’s proposal seems to be to leave areas at risk of storms, where tourists swell the population and industrial high risk zones with no-one able to perform emergency operations.”
Another protester said:“If this hospital closes wards we will have to travel many miles to get treatment. The cost to us in money we may live with but what is the cost of a child’s life”
As revealed by the Herald last week, in other Welsh maternity units that have been downgraded from consultant –led to midwife-led, an average of 8 women a week have to be transferred back to a consultant-led unit: in the case of expectant mums at Withybush Hospital this would mean a lengthy road journey by ambulance to West Wales General Hospital, Carmarthen, over fifty minutes away.
Responding to the protest, a Hywel Dda spokesperson said
“ Our intention remains to retain a paediatric, gynaecology and obstetrics presence at Withybush Hospital; however this remains subject to further discussion with the scrutiny panel and clinicians.”
The Herald understands that a protest march is planned for the weekend of January 25, 2014.