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Withybush baby unit future in doubt

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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.

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Proposal to give firefighters a council tax discount to go to Cabinet

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PEMBROKESHIRE on-call firefighters could enjoy a reduction in council tax “in recognition of the vital work performed” by them if a call is backed by senior councillors.

At the July 18 meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council, a Notice of Motion submitted by Newport and Dinas county councillor, and leader of the Independent Group, Cllr Huw Murphy was heard.

Cllr Murphy’s call stated: “There is currently a significant and severe shortage in suitable applicants coming forward to be on-call fire fighters (retained) for the Mid & West Wales Fire Service.

“Currently there are vacancies for on-call fire fighters at all fire stations throughout the region, which impacts considerably upon the safety of both residents and visitors who may need the assistance of the Fire Service. Pembrokeshire is heavily reliant on our on-call firefighters.

“In recognition of the vital work performed by our on-call fire fighters (retained not full time employees of the service) and to encourage others to consider undertaking this vital role within our communities this Notice of Motion proposes that Pembrokeshire County Council offers every retained fire-fighter working and living in Pembrokeshire a 10 per cent reduction in the council tax they pay after achieving a qualifying period of service annually, to be determined by the Chief Fire Officer.”

At the July 18 meeting, members agreed Cllr Murphy’s call be considered by the council’s Cabinet at a later date.

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Newly elected Labour MP reveals how she was raped, age 15

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NEWLY elected Labour MP Natalie Fleet has bravely revealed how she was raped at the age of 15.
In a harrowing GBNews.com interview to be broadcast this Sunday (July 21), Ms Fleet says she still has “weekly nightmares” about what happened two decades on from the attack.
After being raped, Ms Fleet fell pregnant but says the daughter she gave birth to is now the “love of her life”.
Sitting down with GB News’ Gloria De Piero in an exclusive interview she explains that she’s decided to speak about what happened because the actions of her attacker – who told her to have an abortion – were “not ok”.
Ms Fleet also fears many women are suffering and unable to get the support they need.
That’s why she plans to use her platform in Parliament to use her teenage experiences, which also saw her spent a period homeless, as a catalyst for change.
Reflecting on what happened to her two decades ago, Ms Fleet, now a mother-of-four, said: “Today, 23 years later, I look back and I think, it wasn’t ok. That was an older man. I didn’t know we were having unprotected sex. I was a child and (it) is statutory rape. At the time this isn’t something that we were talking about. It’s not how I saw myself. I still have weekly nightmares about it.
“I have a huge privilege and advantage to be in Parliament and I’m thrilled to be here. But what happened in my childhood still has a massive impact on me, which is why I’m so excited about what the next Labour government is going to do.
“At 15, you definitely think you’re old enough to do all these things. I wanted to give my daughter the best life. But another thing that I can do now I’m in Parliament is I want to be a voice for all of those people, all of those women that have children in far from ideal circumstances.
“That’s why I wanted to talk about where my daughter came from and about what happened. It was really difficult for me to say to her, ‘I don’t think this was entirely consensual, and I think I might have been groomed, and I don’t think this is an appropriate relationship’. She took it really well. I Googled in advance f0r some tips, just a fact sheet or ‘how to deal with this’ and I found nothing.
“I found absolutely nothing. I found there were fact sheets about rape being used as a war crime. But there was nothing else. There’s no acknowledgement that it happens in the UK. And the more research I’ve done, I’ve found that there are over 3,000 conceptions every year from rape. But there’s no charity to support those women.
“There’s no help, advice, or support helpline that you can go to. No help on ‘how do I tell my child, that I love, that is everything to me, that this is where they came from?’”
Explaining why extra support in this area is so desperately needed she continued: “It is biologically very clear what happened to me because I was 15 years old, and he was older. I can prove where she came from, so that’s statutory rape. But there are so many women that this happens too who don’t speak about it.


“They dare not speak about it because they know they won’t be believed. And then even if by some miracle, we move to a society where women are believed, once you say this is your child, then that man can come and have access to that child.
“Even if you prove it’s rape, that man can have access to that child and help bring it up. And that’s absolutely terrifying. This is a perpetrator that has hurt the mother, who can then have access to the child.
“He told me to have an abortion at the time. He’s never met her. He never wanted anything to do with it. And he was very dismissive. He told me many times that he knew lots of ways that he wouldn’t have to pay a penny towards her, because all his friends had already evaded the CSA.”
Describing the relationship she now has with her daughter, Ms Fleet said: “So she’s 23 now and is the absolute love of my life. I am so proud of everything she is. I am thrilled. She makes me proud every single day. But at the time, when I was 15, I felt full of shame and guilt and responsibility. And all I was determined to do was make sure that she had a life that was as good as she would have had to any age parent. That was what I was determined to do.”
Outlining how she plans to use her role as an MP to push for change, she said: “I am a product of the last Labour government. It wasn’t a perfect Government, but it changed my life and it was transformational. When I was younger, things were tough and I had a Labour government.
“When we were homeless, the Labour government made sure that there was enough housing stock for us to be rehoused. And then when I had my first child at a very young age, I could send her to a Sure Start nursery. I could carry on, go to university with a first in the family scholarship.
“I could work in a minimum wage job. I could send my children because I’d got two by then, to a Sure Start nursery, and it just felt like I needed the support of the state. And my God, I got it.
“And, before I became an MP, I worked for a trade union and I was absolutely desperate to give back to my teachers. My teachers had invested in me. The Labour government made sure that my teachers had time to teach me and look after me, and I then saw that I was paying taxes and they weren’t being invested in young children like me or teachers. That’s why we needed a new Government?”
“On my estate, the estate where we were rehoused, I looked around and people struggled. And I see now there are people that I was close to when I was younger who are now suffering with addiction and poverty scars.
“What poverty has done to me has meant that I work and work and work and work and work. If somebody knocks on my door, I won’t answer it because I’m still scared it’s the bailiffs. That’s what happens to you in your childhood, it stays with you. In areas of Bolsover it’s absolutely heart-breaking.
“But I could either be angry about what’s happened over the past 14 years, sad and feel powerless, or I could come into Parliament and try and do something about it. I mean, what an honour.”

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Second home numbers in Pembrokeshire drop after council tax hike

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THE NUMBER of second homes and self-catering holiday properties in Pembrokeshire has declined year-on-year, while those seeking council tax exceptions have, in one class, gone up 255 per cent.

A call for an update on Pembrokeshire County Council’s position on a potential relaxation of the ‘182-day’ rule, allowing self-catering accommodation to avoid paying a council tax premium was heard at the July meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council.

Last year, the rules on holiday lets in Wales changed; Welsh Government criteria saying holiday lets must be filled for 182 days a year – up from a previous 70 – in order to qualify for business rates rather than pay second homes council tax.

In Pembrokeshire, second homes, and self-catering businesses not meeting the criteria, are now paying a 200 per cent council tax premium in the county, effectively a treble rate of council tax.

At the July 18 meeting of full council, a question was submitted by Cllr Huw Murphy was heard, a follow-up from a previously unsuccessful notice of motion where he had called for a relaxation in the ‘182-day’ rules in the county down to 140 days.

After that notice failed last year, it was agreed the position be reviewed in 12 months, with Cabinet agreeing to write to Welsh Government to highlight concern over the 182-day occupancy rule.

In his question, Cllr Murphy said: “Can council be provided with an update of what data has been obtained since Dec 2023 to examine the impact of the 182-day occupancy rule for self-catering properties in advance of a review to be completed by December 2024 prior to any decision over what level of second home council tax to be levied for 2024/25 as it may be necessary to consider a reduction to support an industry under pressure?

“Have PCC received a reply from WG with regards to the concerns raised with regards to the 182-day rule and its impact on the Pembrokeshire tourism industry?”

In response, Cabinet Member for Corporate Finance and Efficiencies Cllr Joshua Beynon said a decision on future council tax premiums would be made by full council at its October meeting, after earlier committee discussions, adding that the council is currently undertaking a consultation on the second homes and long-term empty property premiums and has included questions on using its discretion on properties which did not meet the 182-day rule.

“In the interim, the Revenues team are monitoring the movement in second homes and self-catering units and the number of properties receiving an exception to paying the council tax premium,” he told members.

Members heard, as of July 1, the main increases in the level of exceptions related to Class 1 exceptions, properties that are up for sale, which had increased by 97 in the last 12 months, a rise of 255 per cent, and in Class 6 exceptions, properties that have a planning condition prohibiting year-round occupancy, which had increased by 78, or 21.6 per cent, with an overall increase in the seven classes of exemptions of 37.45 per cent.

Councillors were told the number of second homes had dropped year-on-year on that date from 3,364 to 3,271, roughly a 2.7 per cent drop; self-catering units dropping from 2,621 to 2,425, roughly 7.47 per cent.

Members heard, in response to Cllr Murphy’s second question, the-then leader Cllr David Simpson had received a response in May.

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