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Three potential hospital sites for public consultation – campaigners not satisfied

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HYWEL DDA health board says that it will consult with the public over three potential sites, two in the Whitland area and one in St Clears, for a new planned and urgent care hospital as part of its wider strategy to improve health and care in the region.

The health board submitted plans to the Welsh Government, earlier this year. It insists that if successful, the new hospital could result in the region of £1.3billion investment into health and care in west Wales.

Despite opposition from many people in Pembrokeshire, a petition signed by thousands and dozens of demonstrations it is continuing with its plan.

Facing constant downgrades: Withybush General Hospital in Haverfordwest

The health board’s argument is that the foundation of its plan is to bring as much care as possible closer to people’s homes, with plans for multiple integrated health and care centres, designed with local communities, across Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire.

Locals say that a hospital away from the centre of Pembrokeshire would mean longer travel times in an emergency – costing lives. They also point to poor rural roads, and the fact that the A40 has not been dueled past St. Clears as concerns – the road is often shut when there is an accident meaning long diversions.

A new urgent and planned care hospital is part of the health board’s strategy to be able to re-provide more care in community settings, by having a sustainable hospital model fit for future generations. This would, the board says, improve and increase the specialist care services that can be provided and tackle some long standing challenges, including old hospitals, problems in maintaining medical rotas over several hospitals, and staff recruitment.

Health Board say its hard to recruit staff for Withybush

In a meeting held on Thursday (Aug 4), the Board heard that the process to date in appraising potential new hospital sites, within the zone agreed following “public consultation” in 2018, had received best practice recognition from the independent body the Consultation Institute.

There was unanimous agreement that further public consultation was needed, especially in order to hear the voices of the seldom heard and staff, including those in the community and primary care services.

Based on the evidence and detail provided through the comprehensive land appraisal process to date, the Board decided to take three of five previously considered sites, through to public consultation.

Sites that will not be taken forward include one of two in St Clears (site J). This was because it had the highest risk score based on characteristics of the site and it was scored materially lower than other sites in the technical appraisal, which was made up of a majority representation from the public and used a weighted scoring process in line with what is most important to our communities.

The other site not taken forward for public consultation was the Narberth site. This was due to clinical appraisal concerns that a site further west would lead to a reduction in the number births, neonatal admissions and acute paediatric admissions reducing the critical mass for safe and sustainable services, and having a negative impact on maintaining trainee status for doctors, nurses and midwives. In relation to time critical transfers, for example neonatal intensive care and cardiac, these all go east and a hospital in Narberth would result in longer transfer times.

Vehicle collision: male was taken to Withybush Hospital. Would new site be too far? (Pic. Michael Brown)

In summing up the meeting, Hywel Dda University Health Board Chair Maria Battle said: “Our programme business case to the Welsh Government is seeking the greatest investment west Wales will have ever seen, and builds on the foundation of our promise to bring as much care as possible closer to people’s homes through integrated care centres in many towns across west Wales.

“We have listened to and continue to listen to the fears and voices of the public we serve and our staff who understand the frontline challenges of trying to deliver services across so many sites and spread so thinly. We promise as a Board to continue to listen and take those views into account at every stage. Recognising the fragility of our services and the risk this poses every day, we do not intend to make changes at Glangwili or Withybush Hospital before a new hospital is built. And afterwards, they will continue to provide valuable health services to our communities.”

Protests have gone on for years: Cardiff in 2014

The health board will now work closely with Hywel Dda Community Health Council to develop a consultation plan to hear people’s views on the three remaining sites, one in St Clears, and two in Whitland.

Campaigners say that moving care out of county puts adults and children at risk of poor outcomes or even death. It wastes crucial time, when time is not on our side.

A campaigner told The Herald: “We have 125,000 residents and millions of tourists.

“By implementing the downgrades, HDUHB, will be knowingly putting their lives at risk.

“We re-iterate, we are a rural, widespread county, with poor roads and public transport network.

“Refinery, gas plant, ferry ports, firing range, extreme sports, plus one of the most dangerous professions: farming.

“HDUHB may infer that the “Golden Hour” is no longer relevant, with better equipped ambulances and better trained staff, but that is dependent on an ambulance being available to help & give that immediate care.

“That is increasingly not the case, as ambulances fail to attend, as they are being sent out of county, unable to offload and unable to return to county, to give the help needed.

“It is an awful feeling to know that if our relatives or our children have a life threatening asthma attack, epileptic episode, or other time critical issue, within the new plans, they are unlikely to get to help and survive.

“HDUHB have said they will make no guarantee that Urgent Care would remain in Withybush General Hospital until (and if), a new build is up and running! That is unacceptable.

“HDUHB should commit to rigorous recruitment policies, to keep WGH Urgent Care fully staffed.

“We have lost faith and trust in HDUHB and do not believe that they are working in the best interests of Pembrokeshire.”

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Fishguard RNLI launch to assist sailboat in difficulty

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FISHGUARD RNLI was tasked to assist a yacht which was heading for Aberystwth and which had departed Fishguard harbour early on Saturday 03 December.

The 23-foot sailboat, ‘Misty Blue’, with two crew and a dog aboard, had suffered engine and steering problems when it was four miles N.E. of Newport, having set off into a brisk north – easterly wind from Lower Town quay earlier in the day. After the crew had contacted H.M. Coastguard, the Fishguard RNLI all-weather lifeboat, with seven volunteer crew, was tasked and launched at 1.00pm arriving on scene at 1.25pm. The yacht was at this stage heading back to Fishguard under sail and the lifeboat provided an escort until reaching half a mile off the Fishguard breakwater when a towline was attached to the yacht and the lifeboat then brought the yacht alongside the end of Lower Town quay, once again, at 2.40pm .

After ensuring the yacht were safely moored the lifeboat then returned to its station, arriving at 3.00pm.

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Port promises to work with council to solve Lower Priory flood risk

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THE PORT OF MILFORD HAVEN has promised to “stand-by and support” the Local Authority and its consultancy firm Capita in carrying out any recommendations made which could mitigate flooding in Lower Priory.

Tom Sawyer, CEO of the Port, said that he recognised that people who were affected by the floods in 2018 were clearly “desperately upset.”

“Its clear that we stopped communicating [with the flood victims]”, he said.

But the Port now has confirmed it is willing to work with its partners, and those affected, to do what is necessary to improve drainage to mitigate future flood risk.

Whist The Port of Milford Haven still denies any liability for the serious flood four years ago, communications had since improved, he said.

“It’s true that every time it rains heavily, I do worry about Lower Priory and Havens Head” – Mr Sawyer said.

But a meeting has taken place at the now renovated Priory Inn public house – which was also flooded to a height just below the downstairs ceilings – to update residents on progress.

The Port’s management have walked around the Priory Pill with residents, The Herald has been told.

In 2019, Members of the County Council’s Services Overview Committee probed the Port Authority’s actions in relation to the lakes.

The Council heard that a report by civil engineering consultants Atkins had concluded that obstruction of trash screens leading from Lower Priory did not materially contribute to the extreme flooding which took place both there and at Haven Head in November 2018.

Over three days of torrential rainfall, fourteen properties were flooded at Lower Priory and there was significant flooding at Haven Head.

An emotional moment in 2018: Stephen Crabb MP with Ian Bannister from Lower Priory clearly upset by the damage caused as his daughter Natalie looks on (Pic: Herald)

The Port Authority continues to deny any liability for damage caused by the flooding.

However, at the time Hakin Councillor Mike Stoddart pointed out that Atkins’ assessment was based on evidence produced by Milford Haven Port Authority.

Councillor Stoddart alleged that Atkins’ finding could not necessarily be relied upon. He noted that the Port Authority had an obvious interest in saying the trash screens were not obstructed in order to support its claim it was not liable for the damage caused by the flood.

Defending the Port Authority’s position, both Andy Jones and Tim Bownes, said the report found that the major factor in the flooding was the large increase in levels of silt in the lakes at Haven Head and Lower Priory combined with high tides and unprecedentedly levels of rainfall.

Under further questioning from Mike Stoddart, Mr Bownes conceded that the electronic flood warning system had been a casualty of the flooding and had stopped recording the water volumes at Lower Priory well before the peak of the inundation.

When one resident produced photographs of a truck tyre in front of a trash screen taken in February which remained in place six months later, he was tersely told that the presence of the tyre did not count as an obstruction of the trash screen.

The resident shook his head in disbelief, while several councillors wondered what did constitute an ‘obstruction’.

It is obvious to this newspaper that the only viable solution to the flood risk problem would be increased capacity for the culverts under Havens Head Business Park – and this could cost many millions of pounds.

Milford Haven Cllr Stephen Joseph has observed that a large amount of infill had taken place at the lakes.

He suggested that this, combined with the development of Haven Head over a former tidal plain contributes to the risk of flooding.

Some of those affected by flooding were not insured, or their insurance companies have refused to pay out.

Those families or individuals still out of pocket years later, including the landlady of the pub where the meeting took place, are still fighting for compensation.

Stephen Crabb MP visits flooded resident (Pic: Herald)
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Port CEO promises to invest millions in new pilot boats and more pilots

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THE PORT of Milford Haven’s new Chief Executive has been in post for only eight months, but already the new boss is promising major changes.
Tom Sawyer took up his post at the end of April.
In an exclusive interview with The Pembrokeshire Herald, the CEO of Wales’ biggest port says that there will be some major changes
Most significantly, there will be a huge investment – “in the millions” – in “on water capability” at the port – meaning new pilot boats and a dramatic increase in pilot numbers.

It’s seemingly a huge turn in fortunes for the port.

As recently as August 2014, the port cut the number of pilot boats on duty to a single crewed vessel – There were talks of pilots striking.
At the time, The Herald was contacted by several crew who have said that they have been offered voluntary redundancy ‘to go’.
The Port had said it was looking to cut costs as the amount of cargo coming into Milford Haven has been decreasing following the closure of Murco refinery.

Currently, issues surrounding energy security in the UK and Europe driven by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have led to an uplift of 30% in the number of ships berthing in Milford Haven.
Tom Sawyer said on Monday (Dec 5): “We are making a major investment in “on water capability” at the UK’s western energy gateway.
“In a major investment, we will be purchasing at least two new pilot boats and upping pilot numbers.
“It’s a medium-term plan which should be implemented by late 2024,” Mr Sawyer explained.

Port boss has big plans: Tom Sawyer

The promise of new pilot boats will be welcome news for both operators and pilots.
In 2018 a multi-million-pound project to replace the older pilot vessels ran into trouble – after the three boats were deemed ‘unfit for purpose’ by some crew members.

“These boats were rushed out, and were not fit for service”, a source at the Port told this newspaper.

The then brand-new vessels, which were built in Pembrokeshire by Mainstay Marine Solutions at a cost £3.6m, were involved in incidents which led to questions over the operational safety of the craft.
Tom Sawyer says that he is investing in people, safety and resilience and reliability at the port.
He said: “We are putting people into difficult situations. Marine transport involves controlled collisions. We are dealing with hydro-carbon ships kissing pilot boats and jetties.
“We want new pilot boats and an increase in pilot numbers to boost the confidence our teams have. We are investing in resilience and reliability.
“We need to be capable – having well trained pilots, the right boats and equipment.

Asked to confirm how many new vessels the Port of Milford Haven would be commissioning, Mr Sawyer said: “If we were not purchasing two new boats I’d be surprised.
“Better boats are now available, and we want to go out there and get them.
“Some weather conditions mean we can’t get ships in – we can at least make sure we have the best ability to recover.”

In a move which is surely to be welcomed, Mr Sawyer said that crews would have a say in the specifications of the new vessels.

Investment to increase capacity: South Hook LNG

The port boss suggested that some of the older pilot boats may be used as “inside vessels” – as patrol launches for use inside the haven.
There is no doubt that LNG has revived the fortunes of the port.
South Hook LNG will soon receive its 1000th tanker – a milestone the port says it’s proud of.
Another accolade is that the port has never turned away or diverted an LNG ship – every single one has berthed successfully, without exception.

And now, the Government of Qatar is investing millions of pounds in the expansion of the South Hook LNG terminal as the UK becomes more dependent on shipments of the liquefied fuel imported from abroad.
To accommodate around 25% more liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports from around the world, Qatar is upgrading to meet demand – increasing the Terminal’s redelivery capacity to 812.5GWh/d.”

All of this extra activity will benefit the local area. As well as new boats, and the creation of new jobs in the way of pilots and probably support crews, extra revenue will be shared out in the local area for community projects and charities.
Staff at the Port of Milford Haven will also benefit from the Haven’s revival in fortunes. The new CEO has promised that he will share the results of all this new activity.

Citing the dangers of pilots climbing onto tankers in rough weather using ladders – Mr Sawyer promises an increase in sea survival and safety training.
“People should be safe and be able to make good decisions” he said.
Expressing how he intends to motivate the personnel he manages, he said: “If we have a good year, he said we will share this with our people and the wider community”
He said that this would incentivise the workforce at the port to safely deliver efficiencies and improve results.

The new pilots and boats are expected to be operational by late 2024, according to Mr Sawyer.

St Brides: Pilot boat in Milford Haven
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