Due to the discovery of deteriorating concrete, Withybush Hospital is scheduled to experience partial closures for the majority of the upcoming year.
Withybush Hospital in Pembrokeshire has already witnessed a 50% reduction in available beds, as reported by the chief executive. This issue stems from the use of Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (Raac), primarily employed in flat roofing during the 1950s to 1990s as a cost-effective alternative to traditional concrete. However, Raac has a limited lifespan of only 30 years.
In response to the situation, affected patients have either been relocated within the hospital or discharged. Specifically, six wards on the hospital’s second floor have been closed due to the significant presence of Raac, necessitating this precautionary measure.
Additional impacted sections, such as portions of the first floor and the kitchen, required the installation of metal supports to reinforce the ceiling structure. Despite the closure last month, the physiotherapy ward is among the wards that have been able to resume operations, although the staff now have to navigate their workspaces amidst these metal supports.
Steve Moore, the chief executive of Hywel Dda Health Board, expressed his apprehension regarding the potential challenges posed by winter pressures.
“We’ve probably lost about 50% of our beds so it is a worry,” he stated. “As we go into the winter we’re going to see increases of demand at our front doors.”
He mentioned that contingency plans are in place, but he anticipates a particularly challenging period ahead.
“Our job now is to try and, as quickly as possible, fix the areas that we’ve got these critical issues in so that we can start to reopen wards.
“The first ward should reopen at the end of September with patients hopefully coming back at the beginning of October.
“It does feel like things will start to gradually get better but we’ll be fixing this issue for probably most of next year,”
As per the health board’s statement, the supporting props will remain in position until April of 2024.
The majority of patients have been relocated to South Pembrokeshire Hospital, situated approximately 12 miles (19 km) away, which translates to roughly a half-hour drive.
Certain scheduled surgeries have been relocated to Bronglais Hospital in Aberystwyth, which is a two-hour drive away from Withybush, spanning a distance of 68 miles (109 km).
“Of course, the environment is not ideal, and we’ve had to move some beds out of some areas and into others that are not entirely suitable.”
“I would like to apologise to some patients who are experiencing that.”
The Welsh government has allocated £13 million to the health board for necessary repairs. However, specialists assert that Raac, owing to its susceptibility to damage, will necessitate a full-scale replacement.
A public gathering was convened by the health board last week to deliberate on prospective locations for a new hospital in western Wales. The anticipated inauguration of the new hospital is scheduled for 2029. Mr. Moore underscored that the present Raac predicament underscores the urgency of prioritizing the plans for the new hospital.
“There will be ongoing disruption going on at Withybush for many years. But I think that underlines the need for getting on with building this new hospital.”