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Case not made for reopening MIUs

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Announced a commitment: Shadow Health Minister Darren Millar

THE WELSH GOVERNMENT has criticised a manifesto pledge by the Welsh Conservatives to reopen minor injury units in Pembrokeshire, saying that there was insufficient demand for the services provided by these units, and that the plan would divert front-line staff away from A&E wards unnecessarily.

Last week Shadow Health Minister Darren Millar announced a commitment to ‘to maintain all existing emergency departments and to re-establish minor injury units (MIUs) in community hospitals which have seen theirs axed by the Labour government – in Newtown, Tenby and Colwyn Bay and in the Rhyl/Prestatyn area.’

Coincidentally, three of these MIUs are situated in Assembly constituencies currently held by the Conservatives.

Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire AM Angela Burns welcomed the pledge: “In the constituency over the last 15 years I have seen our NHS services being neglected and eroded and have fought hard to stop the dreadful closures and movement away from Withybush,” she said.

“This pledge would be absolutely fantastic for the whole future of the health service in Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire – investing in Withybush and taking the awful burden off Glangwili.

“Unfortunately the list of axed MIUs is long but I have been lobbying Darren for the Tenby MIU to be included in his commitments and I am delighted that he has accepted the case for a cast iron commitment to Tenby”

Mr Millar further claimed that Wales has ‘seen the largest reductions in healthcare spending of any of the UK nations,’ and announced plans to establish a £20 million ‘Community Hospital Development Fund.’ “Labour has been running the NHS in Wales since 1997, but they are running it into the ground,” Mr Millar claimed.

“In contrast to their legacy of cuts, closures and downgrades, we are making a commitment today to secure, re-open and widen access to NHS services in Wales.

“There would be no reorganisation of the health service under a Welsh Conservative Health Minister and key minor injury units so cruelly closed by Labour, would be re-established to relieve pressure on our emergency departments and provide more convenient access to patients.

“We have always championed the retention of frontline services and consistently opposed the downgrading that has forced patients and their families to travel further for treatment.”

“UNDERUTILISED” 

In response, Health Minister Mark Drakeford claimed that the plans would provide an under-used substandard service, and suggested that the Conservative party’s UK record when in charge of the NHS was questionable at best: “The Welsh Labour Government is investing in a modern Welsh NHS,” Professor Drakeford claimed.

“According to the Treasury’s own figures, Wales spends £172 more per person on health and social services combined than in England.

“The Tories are condemning communities across Wales to unsafe and substandard services which ignore best medical advice and the gold standards which NHS services throughout the UK are striving to meet. The Tories are telling people in Tenby, Rhyl, Newtown and Colwyn Bay that they are only worth second or third best with this plan.

“By seeking to reopen minor injury units which only saw a handful of patients every week, the Tories are not just wasting money but they are threatening the very viability of the emergency departments they claim to want to protect by diverting experienced A&E staff away from the busy frontline.

“We have seen what happens to the NHS when the Tories are in charge – a top-down reorganisation no one wanted; fragmentation; increasing privatisation as the health service is sold off piece by piece and spiralling deficits. The NHS is only safe with Labour.”

Tenby MIU closed in 2013 after a survey taken during August (Tenby’s busiest month) showed that a large majority of patients could be more appropriately treated by other healthcare providers. For example, of the 224 patients seen, 43% could have been treated by a GP or Care on Call, while 19% needed treatment at Withybush Hospital A&E department.

At the time, a Hywel Dda UHB spokesperson said: “By moving forward with the closure of the Minor Injury Unit at Tenby Hospital, which currently sees a low number of attendances throughout the year, the health board will be able to redeploy our experienced nurse practitioners to enhance the Accident and Emergency Department service at Withybush Hospital for the benefit of urgent patients from across Pembrokeshire.

“Following the summer service pilot, it is clear that the majority of people only attend the unit for very minor injuries or illnesses, which can be dealt with by self care or through primary healthcare such as their GP or a local pharmacy.”

A MODERN FACILITY

Labour Assembly candidate Marc Tierney claimed that the plans showed that the Conservatives were ‘out of touch’ with issues in the constituency: “Over the last year, I’ve spoken up and lobbied the Health Board about securing primary care services in Tenby. As a result, the Health Board will bring forward an update on plans to develop an integrated model of health care for Tenby and district at its Board meeting at the end of this month,” he added.

“As our population ages, we need fresh ideas for our NHS and the challenges ahead. The important thing for me is that the community is fully engaged in planning and I know that the South East Pembrokeshire Community Health Network meets often with health bosses to discuss the new model.

“We must not forget that Tenby Cottage Hospital is a modern facility, built after a hard-fought campaign by local people and supported by the then Labour AM, Christine Gwyther. Rather than just bringing back one service like the MIU, I want to see existing services strengthened and new services delivered to meet the needs of local patients now and in the future. That is what people in Tenby want to see happen and I’ll keep championing those views wherever they need to be heard.”

The aging population is especially relevant in light of a Welsh Government announcement to bring community-based eye services to the area – with Tenby and south Pembrokeshire Cottage Hospitals being considered as venues.

At present, patients in Pembrokeshire have to travel to Amman Valley hospital – a 54 mile journey from Pembroke Dock – to access treatment for wet AMD, an age-related eye condition which results in loss of vision.

Many patients, after being reviewed, also have to make further trips for treatment, while the Welsh Government-funded pilot will be able to provide a review and injection on the same visit. It is hoped that providing this service in Tenby will free up surgical capacity in Amman Valley and Bronglais Hospitals, reducing waiting times for patients requiring cataract surgery.

Kathryn Davies, the Executive Director of Commissioning/Therapies and Health Sciences for Hywel Dda UHB said: “This project will improve the quality of life for approximately 340 patients, often elderly and vulnerable, currently experiencing a significant travel burden by providing this care within a community setting, much closer to home. It will also release some capacity within our whole service, allowing us to treat more people who are waiting for care and improve patient outcomes.”

The new sites should be treating patients within the next three to four months.

“Improving our patient outcomes and experience for wet AMD is a significant priority for our health board and we are excited to be progressing this project which is in line with our strategic aim to provide more review, care and treatment as close to home as possible,” Ms Davies added.

“We have also maximised the potential to use innovation, such as training community optometrists. This is not only prudent and beneficial for the health service and its capacity to provide care to our population, but also evidence of a whole-systems approach which meets standards of care and provides a better patient experience.”

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Welsh Guards sergeant shot dead during Castlemartin live-fire training exercise

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A BRITISH ARMY sergeant was killed on Thursday night (Mar 4) in a shooting accident at Castlemartin Training Area, The Herald can confirm.

The solider was training with live ammunition, ahead of a planned deployment to Iraq this summer.

Five police cars and an ambulance were seen screaming through Pembroke towards the incident at approximately 10pm towards the incident.

A coastguard helicopter, CG187, was scrambled to the scene, and hovered near Bosherston for a while, but was stood down and returned to base.

The Herald has contacted the MOD for a comment, who said: “It is with great sadness we can confirm the death of a soldier on the 4th of March.

“Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this tragic time.

“The circumstances surrounding this death are being investigated and it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”

THIS STORY IS UPDATING

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Pembrokeshire County Council bills Home Office for Penally camp costs

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THE COUNCIL has sent an invoice for more than £80,000 to the Home Office.

It is to cover some of the costs that the local authority has incurred in connection with the Penally Asylum Seeker Centre, near Tenby.

Following a question on the issue from Cllr Jonathan Preston at Full Council the Council have confirmed that a bill has been sent.

The Member for Penally ward asked: “Please can the relevant Cabinet Member provide a breakdown of all costs to this authority which have been incurred in providing staff, services and other associated resources to Penally camp since its re-purpose by the Home Office last September?”

Council leader Cllr. David Simpson confirmed that on February 22 Pembrokeshire County Council submitted an invoice for £83, 858 which includes £65,564 in staff costs, £12,799 of specialist support and £5,495 for works such as barriers.

Pembrokeshire County Council is currently awaiting payment, the Authority confirmed.

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Hospitality sector welcomes Budget boost

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IT HAS been so long it seems since we could stand at a bar and enjoy a well-earned pint, but now we are on the road back to normality, the Herald has spoken to some of those in the hospitality sector who have been asked to close. We wanted to know what the owners in businesses in these sectors locally thought of the budget and if Rishi Sunak had done enough to help them.

We first spoke to a Milford Haven restaurant business. Owner of Martha’s Vineyard in Milford Haven, Dan Mills said that the budget was not a silver bullet to fix all problems but said that the budget had gone a fair way to delivering what many in the Pembrokeshire hospitality sector have been calling for in recent weeks.

Dan Mills said: “The biggest risk many of us were facing was the cliff edge of a VAT increase, the end of the Furlough Scheme and a return to full business rates, I’m pleased that the Chancellor has recognised this and taken action on all fronts.

“With talk of the Welsh Government restricting us to outside trading for an initial period, the flexibility that the Furlough Scheme brings will be a huge help to ensure staff retain their jobs.

“I was also delighted to see that the Chancellor has provided funding to Wales to ensure that we benefit from a further 12 months of Business Rate Relief here in Pembrokeshire, that’s money that many of us can instead invest into restarting our businesses.

“I hope that the conversation that unfortunately began due to Covid between politicians and the Pembrokeshire hospitality and tourism sector can continue long beyond this crisis, it seems that through some open and honest feedback we are making real progress.

Award winning gastro-pub The Griffin Inn is well known throughout Wales and has received many national reviews. Their reputation puts them in a strong position once they are allowed to re-open. We spoke to Sian and Simon Vickers about the budget.

Simon Vickers, co-owner is also a director of Visit Pembrokeshire. He told The Herald: “I think the budget was very positive for the hospitality industry with the reduction in VAT being the biggest help.

“Overall I feel the government have supported the industry amazingly

In regard to tax on alcohol, Simon said: “Duty has been frozen It would have been nice to have seen a cut in it. Whether there’s a cut or not the breweries always increase their prices so in all honesty it never affects us.”

The ongoing financial support has been welcomed by industry group CAMRA, The Campaign or Real Ale, but the organisation said that the Chancellor had missed the opportunity to lower beer duty to save our pubs.

Their national chairman Nik Antona issued a statement to The Pembrokeshire Herald saying: “Freezing alcohol duty is obviously better than a rise. However, CAMRA had hoped to see the Chancellor announce a cut in duty on beer served on tap in pubs and social clubs to benefit consumers and help the great British pub recover and thrive in the difficult months and years ahead by being able to compete with supermarket alcohol.

“The Government’s commitment to review alcohol duties in the coming months is welcome. CAMRA will continue to call for a lower rate of duty for beer served in pubs – an option available to the Government now we have left the European Union.

“Reducing tax on beer served in pubs and social clubs would encourage responsible drinking in a supervised, community setting – as well as boosting jobs and local economies, helping consumers and benefiting pubs and licensees.”

On financial support announced, Nik commented: “Cutting VAT as pubs begin to reopen, and reducing it until April next year, means they can now start benefiting from that cut – but CAMRA believes this VAT cut should be extended to alcohol so that traditional locals that don’t serve food can benefit too.

“The extension of furlough until September and new grants of up to £18,000 are very welcome. However, pubs are unlikely to be able to fully reopen at pre-COVID trading levels due to outside space and then table service only indoors. The beer and pubs sector will need further support over the coming months, over and above new loans, to help them get back on their feet until there is a full and proper re-opening and they can trade at full capacity.

“Extending the business rates holiday until the end of June will help keep the wolves from the door for many English pubs, with the two-thirds reduction for the rest of the financial year a welcome step. However, given how tough it will be for many pubs we believe the 100% cut in business rates needs to be extended for a full 12 months as has already happened in Scotland.”

Picture: Simon Vickers, Griffin Inn, Dale

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