THURSDAY, November 21 saw a packed Picton Centre host a public meeting regarding the future of Withybush Hospital.
Members of Save Withybush Action Team (SWAT) and the Facebook group Save Essential Services at Withybush and other worried Pembrokeshire residents jammed into the Centre to discuss their concerns about the future of Withybush General Hospital.
Consultant Obstetrician Chris Overton told the meeting:
“I’ve been doing this for nine years: I stood outside Withybush on December 27, 2004 handing out leaflets warning you that they were going to take away your services.
“We’re planning to have demonstrations every Saturday at 11am outside the hospital from January 4 because we want them to know we are still here, we want them to know we still care and we want them to know we’re not going to go away. We want a big event every Saturday all the way through January, February, March – as long as it takes.
He also spoke about the possibilities of what might happen if Withybush was to close and added: “If they close us down, if they transfer services to Glangwilli, If Glangwilli can’t cope there is a scenario where a woman might go into labour and get sent to other hospitals where they might be full.
County councillor speaks
Cllr David Howlett was the only County Councillor to attend the meeting. He said:
“Earlier in the week we tabled an urgent question to the health minister but that had to be agreed by the presiding officer. Unfortunately the presiding officer for the national assembly of Wales declined that, which we thought was terrible.
“The Welsh Conservative group have a 60 minute debate next week (Wednesday 27, 4pm) they’ve chosen the topic of Withybush hospital and the Welsh minister will have to respond and they will give indication of what is going to happen.”
No confidence in Health Board
The meeting was told that a number of services are threatened with closure but nothing has been decided yet. The meeting considered the possible scenarios if services were cut as feared. One member discussed the possibility of going to the Welsh Assembly when they are meeting the health minister to get the best impact and to make the AM’s sit up and take note of what they are doing.
Another member proposed a vote of no confidence in the chief executive and the board of the health authority. This motion was met with applause and was unanimously carried.
While many members of the public gave heart-warming stories about their current situations, each highlighting a number of problems that would come to fruition should some services at Withybush close, others at the meeting expressed anger at the Health Board’s plans. Chris Overton told the meeting:
“The Health Board has been told it cannot make any announcements with regards to where services are going. A final decision will be made by the health minister on Tuesday January 21.
“We investigated the possibility of issuing proceedings in January of this year when the Health Board’s plans first became public. We now have a new opportunity because the health minister has made an announcement on September 24 and he’s referred it back to the health board. We must have that judicial review permission request in by December 24.
“There is only one way for the people of Pembrokeshire and that is to demand Withybush stays open as a fully functioning hospital.
“The Health Board senior management have been playing their cards very close to their chest and if it hadn’t been for the local press revealing what they are planning I doubt that we would be having this discussion.
“We all need to consider the safety of the people of Pembrokeshire.
“I have been begging our GPs to contact the Welsh government and the BMA secretary. If you can get your GP behind this campaign, we’ve got a significant chance of success”.
From the floor, it was suggested:
“We could look at when the Welsh Assembly are meeting with the health minister when we’ve got the most impact as many AM’s as possible making sure we have a demonstration in Cardiff when we’ve got the biggest impact towards the AM’s.”
Another member of the public asked:
“Can I point out that Mark Drakeford tweeted on Tuesday to the effect that the Welsh NHS has got to change and Hywel Dda is no exception? That rather suggests it doesn’t matter what we do he’s already made his mind up.”
Threat to tourism
Thinking about Pembrokeshire’s status as a tourist destination, considerable unease was also expressed at the potential loss of services:
“It’s very easy to make decisions which don’t affect you in any way shape or form.
“In the time I’ve been in Pembrokeshire there have been an awful lot of industrial accidents, none of these large industrial accidents produced huge amounts of casualties. The powers that be should realise that with what we have in the Haven, not to mention the thousands of people who come here in the summer, where roads are totally inadequate for that number of people if there is an emergency. We want an A & E service that can cope with accidents on an industrial scale.
“Pembrokeshire relies heavily on tourism. No one is going to come here because, quite simply put, it’s too dangerous to come to Pembrokeshire.”
John Osmond stood in the 2007 election for Plaid Cymru:
“I have a personal experience of how valuable Withybush is as during that campaign I was fishing off the rock at Martins Haven and slipped and dislocated my elbow and I wouldn’t have wanted to go much further than Haverfordwest on that occasion.
“We’re very fortunate in this campaign to have it lead by the consultants. This Mr Purt (the Health Board’s Chief Executive) is a man in a grey suit. A man or a woman in a white suit is worth a hundred men in grey suits.”
The Pembrokeshire Herald invited Hywel Dda LHB to comment on specific issues raised by the meeting and by the leaflet we reported upon last week. A spokesperson from the Health Board said:
“The health board was instructed by the Health Minister in September to clarify the delivery model for obstetric and paediatric services that would be provided to support a Level 2 neo-natal unit before a final Ministerial decision is made in relation to newborn services.
“The health board continues to discuss potential service models with staff and so meetings are taking place at a hospital, county and health board-wide level.
“We intend to respond to Welsh Government in the next few weeks.
“A&E remains open 24/7 at Withybush Hospital and no decision has been taken to reduce these hours of service.”
“A gap of trust”
Simon Hart MP spoke to The Pembrokeshire Herald:
“I am enormously frustrated by the Local Health Board. It seems to have enormous difficulty communicating with and generating trust among either members of its staff or the Pembrokeshire public.
“Every time an announcement is due it is trailed by rumour and counter-rumour. Months of uncertainty seem to be followed by baffling decisions that are hard to understand.
“I speak often to members of Hywel Dda staff who express their deep personal concerns about the future while the rumour mill does its work
“Staff members are doing a difficult job in impossible circumstances. There is a real gap of trust and it is up to the Health Board to sort that out; it needs to stop being secretive and start being open and transparent, not only with its employees but also with Pembrokeshire.”