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Health

New hospital sites to be reviewed by appraisal group

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PEOPLE from communities across the three counties will next week help score five potential sites for a new hospital in a zone including and between Narberth and St Clears, the Health Board have suddenly announced.

The move is at odds with the wishes of the people of Pembrokeshire who have been campigning to save Withybush Hospital. There are concerns that a hospital further away from Haverfordwest would be too far away in emergencies, and would cause locals unnecessary travel.

The healthboard said that a workshop being held on Tuesday (Jun 28) will be the second of two technical sessions with members of the public, staff and partners.

But campaigners are saying proper consulation is not taking place.

According to the Health Board, the first workshop, held in May, agreed the ‘weighting’ of the seven technical criteria to be used in this scoring process.

The potential sites to be reviewed are:

  • Agricultural land and buildings forming part of Kiln Park Farm which is located to the north of Narberth train station and adjacent to the A478, approximately 1km to the north-east of Narberth town centre.
  • Agricultural land located to the north-east of Whitland town centre and situated between the A40 to the north, Whitland Rugby Club to the east and Spring Gardens to the south.
  • Agricultural land and buildings forming part of Ty Newydd Farm which is located to the east of the Old Whitland Creamery site and Whitland town centre.
  • Agricultural land and buildings forming part of Penllyne Court located between Whitland and St Clears just outside Pwll-Trap. The site lies between the Swansea-Haverfordwest railway line to the north and the A40 to the south.
  • Agricultural land at old Bryncaerau fields, located adjacent to the junction of the A40 and A477 in St Clears, between the A4066 (Tenby Road) to the south, the village of Pwll Trap to the north and the A40 to the west.

The Health Board argues that all sites are in a zone that is the most central location for the majority of the population in the south of the Hywel Dda area and was determined through public consultation.

The upcoming workshop will apparently involve the scoring by a majority public representation being drawn from across our region and including participants with protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010.

The Health Board has given assurances it will not close Withybush Hospital. The promise came in response to a petition to retain A&E at Withybush Hospital reached 10,000 signatures back in April.

Speaking then, Lee Davies, director of strategic development and operational planning for Hywel Dda, said the board are aware of the ‘passion’ and ‘strength’ of feeling around the long-term strategy titled ‘A Healthier Mid and West Wales: Our Future Generations Living Well’, which includes plans to build a new hospital on a site as yet unconfirmed believed to be somewhere in the St Clears area.

Mr Davies called the proposed changes a ‘once-in-a-life-time investment’ into the health care services in west Wales.

Mr Davies said: “Our ambition is to move from a service that treats illness to one that keeps people well, prevents ill-health or worsening of ill health, and provides any help you need early on.

“We can also reassure the public that we have no plans or intention to close Withybush Hospital.

“We fully understand the passion and strength of feeling that exists in our communities.

“We share that passion, along with a commitment, to deliver the best possible care and services for people who live in mid and west Wales.”  

Supporters of the petition, which having reached 10,000 signatures will now be considered for debate by the Petitions Committee at the Senedd, say they will not let Hywel Dda ‘trample on them’.

Today, following the latest announcement on sites, Lee Davies said: “The health board has been committed to undertaking significant engagement with our communities. This partnership has brought us a step closer to selecting a site for the new hospital, so I am grateful to participants for their involvement in this important part of the process to identify the best hospital sites.

“The outputs from this workshop will be considered by the Board in August, along with the findings from other appraisal groups that are currently ongoing. These appraisal groups are currently reviewing matters covering clinical, workforce and economic / financial issues.

“The final decision about the chosen site will be made by the health board, in agreement with Welsh Government, should they support the funding of the hospital.”

The health board says its ambition is to bring opportunities to provide a wider range of specialist health services to our communities within the boundaries of Hywel Dda than is currently possible.

There is, however, the Board says is an important continued role for Withybush and Glangwili hospitals, which will operate as local community hospitals, with ambulatory services, therapy and nurse-led beds, focusing on rehabilitation and less acute needs. The aim is for most people to receive their care locally and only stay in the new Planned and Urgent Care Hospital when really necessary for acute care and when possible to be transferred back to their homes or to closer hospitals if they need a period of rehabilitation. We plan to have 24/7 minor injury units at Glangwili and Withybush hospitals, based on the successful Prince Phillip Hospital minor injury unit.

Steadfast: Pembrokeshire firmly backs retaining Withybush Hospital and its services (Pic Herald)

The health board said does not intend to make changes at Glangwill or Withybush hospitals until the new hospital is built (we think the new Urgent and Planned Care Hospital will take until at least the end of 2029 to open).

They promised regular engagement – listening and working with our communities, and our partner organisations, and possibly consultation on parts of the programme.

However campaigners say that proper engagement is not happening.

A spokesperson from the Save Withybush Campaign told The Herald: “Under the Future Generations Act they are legislatively obligated to engage in co-production with residents before making any decisions regarding changes to services. 

“This includes vulnerable groups, people without cars, and especially those who will be most affected by the proposed changes.

“We know from our research that they have not done that. 

“They have conducted piecemeal consultations which have not used the correct methodology. And they certainly have not actively reached out to the people who would be most affected by this – should these changes ever go ahead.”

Meanwhile, Pembrokeshire County Councillors are due to meet with health board representatives to find out more about the future of care and the implications for Withybush Hospital next month.

A Notice of Motion has been tabled by Haverfordwest’s John Cole raising concerns about the loss of services and the “downgrading” of the county’s general hospital.

People from all over Pembrokeshire were at recent protests (Pic: Herald)

It was due for discussion at Thursday’s (June 16) social care overview and scrutiny committee but members decided to postpone its consideration until a planned seminar with Hywel Dda University Health Board was held, with a provisional date of July 4 referenced.

Clr. Cole’s motion states: “With the recently published declaration of the Hywel Dda Health Board on the future of Pembrokeshire’s only general hospital I would like to ask the council to stand with our electorate in supporting the fight to retain services essential to the health and well-being of residents.

“Many of our residents feel the council, particularly us elected members, are, or appear, indifferent to the concerns being expressed. I believe in doing such.

“We can show that councillors are united and stand with the people of Pembrokeshire we were elected to serve’. would be showing diligence that the best price available is received.”

He tabled the motion in March, adding “I’m sure all members are as concerned with the prospect of losing services and the downgrading of our General Hospital Withybush. This is why I brought my NOM before the council.”

Commenting on Hywel Dda’s designation of five possible future sites, Samuel Kurtz MS, said: “After many years, the Health Board have finally confirmed the five potential sites of the new hospital.

“We now need an honest, detailed, and transparent conversation about the potentials of each of these sites, both positive and negative. This is why this consultation is so important.

“Our local communities should be central to this decision-making process, engagement is key. It’s vital that every local resident has a say in this matter.

“Concerns remain strong in the community regarding access to an A&E department if it is further away. The Welsh Labour Government and the Health Board must answer these concerns honestly, and if they can’t, then maintaining the current services with investment at their locations must also be an option.

“We want to see all of Pembrokeshire and all Carmarthenshire served by a top-class health service which is accessible to all residents.”

Community

A further two Pembrokeshire day care centres may close if petitions fail

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TWO PETITIONS, calling on Pembrokeshire County Council to keep day care centres in the county open have been launched, with the creator of one calling on all affected to unite together.

Earlier this year, senior councillors backed plans to close two of the county’s centres for older adults and those with learning disabilities, Portfield SAC, Haverfordwest, and Avenue SAC, Tenby; service users moving to other centres in the county.

The county council is currently changing care provision for older adults and those with learning disabilities, and fears have been raised recently that Pembroke Dock’s Anchorage day care centre is to close.

A series of engagement events have taken place at The Anchorage recently, outlining the reasons and the options in continued service.

One parent, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “One young woman who attends ran out of the first meeting sobbing when she was told it was going to close.

“Another, at the second meeting, tried to address the meeting, but was so choked up at the thought of not seeing her friends any more she could hardly speak.”

It now is feared Narberth’s Lee Davies Day Care Centre and Crymych’s Bro Preseli Day Centre could also close, with concerns it is due solely to budgetary reasons.

An e-petition on the council’s own website, by John Llewellyn of Living Memory Group, entitled against the closure of the Lee Davies and Bro Preseli day care centres, has attracted some 254 signatures to date.

It states: “We call on Pembrokeshire County Council to Review the closure of the Lee Davies Day Care Centre at Bloomfield’s and the Bro Preseli Day Centre at Crymych.

“Staff at both day care centres were informed in mid-March that both facilities would be closing due to PCC budget cuts. Both centres are an essential outlet for the wellbeing of the attendees and their families.”

Change.org petition, called Save the Lee Davies Day Centre Narberth, has also been started by Kate Schofield, the twin sister of one of the centre users, which has attracted 186 signatures.

She says her sister has already seen “her beloved Avenue Centre close,” and could “lose her old and new friends at the Lee Davies Centre”.

That petition reads: “Pembrokeshire County Council are currently reviewing the day centre provision in Pembrokeshire.  They have posted some petitions where you can merely sign your name, but this is not proper consultation, and in reality decisions about services provided for older people and vulnerable adults many with complex learning disabilities are being made by councillors who are driven purely by budget savings.

“If we lose the Lee Davies Centre there will be little or no provision in south Pembrokeshire, The Avenue in Tenby has closed, The Anchorage will close very shortly and in Haverfordwest, Portfield has also been closed.

“Please sign, comment and share let’s show PCC that we care even if they clearly don’t.  We have until early June to make our feelings known, so please sign today.”

Kate added: “My sister has Down’s Syndrome and because of our age has always only had the option of day care services.

“Over the last few years she has, like the rest of us, come through Covid. The day, whilst out for a walk, she started laughing while hugging a tree because she couldn’t hug me will stay with me forever.

“She’s seen her beloved Avenue Centre close and now will possibly lose her old and new friends at the Lee Davies Centre, this is one of the many reasons I have raised this petition.”

Kate, who said she was moved to tears by the plight of Anchorage centre users, finished by saying: “I don’t believe PCC, and indeed the Cabinet Member for Social Care & Safeguarding, have any regard for older people with learning disabilities, profoundly disabled adults and indeed older people in general.

“They talk about stress and mental health but have no regard to what they are doing to carers and attendees across these centres.”

She finished: “We need to all join forces, Lee Davies, Bro Preseli and The Anchorage to fight PCC.”

Kate may be contacted on 01646 651049.

A spokesman for Pembrokeshire County Council said: “Pembrokeshire County Council is working with trustees at both Lee Davies and Bro Preseli in order to maintain current service provision wherever possible.

“The services remain committed to develop a hybrid social enterprise model during 2024/25.”

Anchorage plea: A plea by a concerned parent to keep the “safe and happy place” Anchorage centre open – which had also attracted a council e-petition – was recently heard at a full council meeting.

Responding at that meeting, Cabinet Member for Social Care & Safeguarding Cllr Tessa Hodgson said: “All service users of the Anchorage will be offered alternative day centre arrangements in order to preserve their independence and also to support the caring needs of their families, these assessments are still taking place and are likely to continue to do so at least until the end of May.”

The anchorage petition, which closed today, May 24, attracted 402 signatures.

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Health

Highest waiting lists on record in: NHS performance under scrutiny

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THE latest NHS performance figures for Wales reveal the highest waiting lists on record, sparking a wave of criticism and concern from various stakeholders. The data, which covers March and April 2024, underscores the immense pressure faced by the Welsh health service, particularly in comparison to other parts of the UK.

Conservative Criticism of Labour Government

Sam Rowlands, the Welsh Conservative Shadow Health Minister, has sharply criticised the Labour-run Welsh Government, attributing the record-high waiting lists to their management. “These atrocious statistics stand as a stark warning as to what a Labour Government looks like and why Labour cannot be trusted to run the health service,” Rowlands remarked. He highlighted the contrast with England, where he claims progress is being made to cut waiting lists. Rowlands also accused the Welsh Government of misallocating funds received from the UK Conservative Government, spending them on initiatives like 20mph speed limits and expanding the Senedd, instead of bolstering NHS resources.

The statistics are indeed sobering: the number of patient pathways increased from over 762,500 to just under 768,900 in March, the highest figure on record, equating to 1-in-4 of the Welsh population. Additionally, 599,100 individual patients were waiting for treatment in March, marking an increase of nearly 8,000 compared to February. Despite promises from the Labour Health Minister to eliminate two-year waits by March 2023, over 20,000 patients are still waiting this long.

Macmillan Cancer Support’s Concerns

Macmillan Cancer Support has also weighed in on the troubling figures, particularly focusing on cancer treatment delays. Glenn Page, Policy and Public Affairs Manager at Macmillan Cancer Support, acknowledged some improvements in cancer waiting times but stressed that many people are still being let down. “Healthcare professionals are working around the clock, but these treatment delays are having a devastating impact on people living with cancer and throwing lives into chaos,” Page said.

In March 2024, more than 600 cancer patients in Wales waited over 62 days to start treatment from first being suspected of having cancer. This figure, representing 40% of those who started treatment that month, highlights the ongoing struggles within the NHS. While there was an improvement from the previous month, the national cancer waiting times target was still missed. Particularly concerning are the delays faced by patients with gynaecological cancers, with only 31.8% starting treatment on time.

NHS Confederation’s Response

The Welsh NHS Confederation has provided a more nuanced perspective, acknowledging the high demand but also highlighting areas of progress. Darren Hughes, Director of the Welsh NHS Confederation, noted that emergency departments experienced their busiest April on record. Despite this, there were improvements in performance against four and twelve-hour targets, and the average time spent in emergency departments decreased.

Hughes pointed out that the number of pathways waiting over two years has fallen for the twenty-fourth consecutive month, showing a 71% drop since its peak post-pandemic. However, he emphasised the need for greater investment in prevention, primary, community, and social care to manage demand sustainably. “If governments do not act now, the situation will only deteriorate as demand continues to rise,” he warned.

Welsh Government’s Stand

In response, a Welsh Government spokesperson acknowledged the challenges but also highlighted the strides being made in reducing waiting times and improving access to care. “Long waiting times are continuing to come down – these figures show they have fallen every month for two years and there has been a 71% reduction in long waits since their peak post-pandemic,” the spokesperson said. They also pointed to improvements in diagnostic waiting times and cancer treatment performance.

However, they admitted that ambulance performance remains suboptimal, despite improvements in response times for the most critical calls. The Welsh Government reiterated their commitment to supporting NHS staff and focusing on further reducing waiting times.

Conclusion

The latest NHS Wales performance figures have sparked a heated debate about the effectiveness of the current management under the Labour-run Welsh Government. While some progress has been acknowledged, the record-high waiting lists and persistent treatment delays underscore the urgent need for comprehensive reforms and increased investment in healthcare resources. The coming months will be critical in determining whether these issues can be effectively addressed to meet the growing demands on the Welsh NHS.

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Health

Decades of failure and denial over tainted blood scandal revealed

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ON MONDAY evening (May 20), Rishi Sunak apologised on behalf of the British government to the victims of the contaminated blood scandal.

After a five-year public inquiry, the Prime Minister offered an “unequivocal” apology for the findings published in Sir Brian Langstaff’s report earlier on May 20.

The findings were damning.

They included the revelation that ministers, doctors and civil servants knew the risks of the blood products given to haemophiliacs and people needing blood transfusions.

Victims were “gaslit” by claims that the mass infection of those patients with HIV and hepatitis C was inadvertent, that screening started as soon as it could, and that no one could have stopped it sooner.

None of those things were true.

Under successive Labour and Conservative Governments, the Department of Health and HM Treasury fought against a public inquiry and the idea of paying compensation to those affected by being given tainted blood products.

Officials fobbed off ministers who tried to look into what had happened, complaining that they had too much sympathy for the victims.

When briefing documents for ministers got close to revealing the truth, civil servants doctored their content to misrepresent their authors’ findings.

While Mr Sunak apologised for the failures of the British state and Sir Kier Starmer for a “failure of politics”, the blame doesn’t rest only at Westminster’s door.

Welsh Government ministers are specifically mentioned for refusing to hold a public inquiry and not seeking advice specific to Wales. Instead, despite having responsibility for the NHS in Wales, they slavishly followed Westminster’s line.

Welsh Government ministers failed to examine the strength of the evidence UK ministers and officials relied upon or assess the evidence available in Wales.

Had they done so, they would have found key claims – that all infections were inadvertent and patients received the best possible treatments – were untrue and unfounded.

Only in 2017 did the Welsh Government change tack, when then-Health Minister Vaughan Gething wrote to his UK counterpart, Jeremy Hunt, to request a UK-wide public inquiry.

Ironically, only Theresa May’s political weakness following the 2017 General Election led the Westminster Government to order a public inquiry. Mrs May feared losing a Commons vote on the demand for one.

The worst elements of the scandal are clinical and institutional.

Clinicians, Department of Health officials, and others concealed the truth to avoid blame and liability.
The inquiry pointed to medical advice on the dangers of blood and plasma dating back 40 years and court rulings that showed other countries had started screening sooner.

Doctors claimed they hadn’t seen evidence of infection through those products even while treating people who had contracted AIDS from their treatment with them.

Documents disappeared, were “lost”, and patient records were deleted.

Leading clinicians withheld critical information from patients and their families.
Children with haemophilia were treated as guinea pigs.

The list of severe historic and continuing failings is almost unending.

The government’s easiest task is paying compensation. Addressing the culture of secrecy and institutional arrogance will be much harder.

For more on this story, see this week’s edition of The Pembrokeshire Herald.

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