CONSERVATIVE politicians have reacted angrily to the news that Mark Drakeford, Minister for Health in the Welsh Labour Government, has endorsed the “underlying model” set out in a health review that looks certain to result in the closure of the Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU) in Withybush Hospital.
The Scrutiny Panel Report on service change proposals to neonatal services across three hospitals, which looks likely to be fully endorsed by the Welsh Government, recommends that ‘the provision of neonatal special care facilities across all Hywel Dda hospitals is neither safe nor sustainable, given the low volume of patient throughput’.
Just this week, speaking with the BBC, Labour leader Ed Milliband, praised the Welsh Government’s handling of the NHS, stating that they were doing an ‘excellent job’ and blaming ‘cuts’ on Westminster. The Labour run Welsh Government has chosen, controversially, not to protect the health element of its budget, in contrast to the UK government’s policy in England. The health element of the Welsh Government’s budget amounts to 40% of its overall expenditure, as opposed to 18% in the UK overall.
Stephen Crabb, MP for Preseli Pembrokeshire, which is the constituency in which the Withybush hospital resides, commented on the Labour decision to adopt the Scrutiny Panel Report, saying,
“I was very disappointed by the Minister’s statement. Although no firm plans were confirmed, it is clear that the Welsh Government will be centralising specialist baby care services at one site in the Hywel Dda region. This leaves SCBU in Withybush Hospital in the same uncertain position. Although the Minister explained that he would make a final decision after Christmas, having asked for more information, this announcement will be unsettling for local people. As a longstanding campaigner to save this vital service for our community, I remain anxious that the decision has effectively been taken to close the unit at Withybush. I hope that the further information he receives will convince the Minister not to push forward with such a closure.”
The Assembly Welsh Conservative Group claim that Carwyn Jones’s Labour Government will cut the Welsh NHS budget by over £800 million, in real terms, over five years, which they say equates to £5 a second.
However, Joyce Watson, Labour AM for Mid and West Wales, denied that a cost cutting exercise was to blame for the imminent closure of the SCBU. Speaking with The Herald she said that, “This is not about cost; it is about sustainable care for now and the future.”
In a statement released by her office she stated that, “We want the best for patients in Wales. Clearly what we want is an improvement on the present state of affairs. Those of us who have fought for the maintenance of the existing provision at these hospitals are not stick-in-the-muds. If what is proposed is better, we’ll have it”.
She told The Herald that she had sought assurances from the Minister that Withybush would be able to deal with emergency births where the mother/child needed immediate care, which he had confirmed to be the case. When pressed on what that would mean if the current SCBU were to be closed she said that, “A stabilisation unit will remain in Withybush”, that would, “provide adequate care in case of an emergency”.
The Conservative Shadow Minister for Health, Darren Millar, did not share the Labour AM’s optimism, saying, “Labour has confirmed more hospital downgrading in Wales, despite previous assurances that this would not happen”
Preselli Pembrokeshire AM, Paul Davies, said, “It seems it’s clear that calls to save Withybush Hospital’s SCBU have fallen on deaf ears. This Labour Government still appears to advocate a closure that many believe would be both dangerous and unsafe. There are deep concerns surrounding the potential axing of this unit; not least the effect it will have on an already strained ambulance service, the lack of suitable transport services within our communities, and the knock-on effect on other services at the hospital”.
Angela Burns, AM for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire issued a statement to The Herald saying, “The Minister must remember the recommendation made by the CYP (Children and Young People) Committee into Neonatal Care that spoke of the need to ensure adequate transportation systems if everything is to be dragged eastwards. We have a fairly poor road network in Pembrokeshire with a great many single carriageways, an overstretched ambulance service, and it is not advised that premature babies go anywhere by helicopter. My overall view is that this is a long kick into the deep grass but what it leads to is more worry and uncertainty for the public, for staff, for recruitment and for doctors and nurses thinking of training in Hywel Dda”.
The Herald invited further comment from local Councillor and leader of the County Council’s Labour Group, Paul Miller. He said he was unable to comment and directed all enquiries to Joyce Watson or the Labour Health Minister.
Pembrokeshire residents must now wait to see if there is any hope of a change of heart by the Welsh Government before a final decision is made on the future of the Special Care Baby Unit at Withybush.