When will it end?

First published Saturday, February 1, 2014

I am fortunate to live in a beautiful county, noted for the coastline, the scenery and more. The landscape has provided the backdrop for several films and TV productions in the last few years, and deservedly so. It is indeed a place that gets under your skin, and into your soul, and many people here, whether born here or ‘adopted residents’, are fiercely proud of the county.

In the last couple of weeks, the area has made headlines for various reasons, none of them celebrating the positive aspects of the county. From the Wales Audit Office report on certain activities within the local authority, to a second announcement in as many weeks in relation to plans for the main hospital in the county, the picture is not exactly pretty at present.

Pembrokeshire is a county heavily reliant on three major sectors – in no particular order agriculture, tourism and the energy sector. As with any business sector there will always be threats and opportunities that come along, often as a result of economic changes/conditions, or natural disaster (extreme weather, foot and mouth outbreak etc). Currently however, the threats that are hanging over the county like an increasingly suffocating fog are the result of man, and man alone.

It is widely accepted and understood that recent years have required a rethink on many aspects of ‘public spending’ and the services that come out of that. Equally it is understood that savings have to be made, and whilst there may not always be complete agreement on how and what that looks like, most of us will accept well reasoned and thought out arguments for such savings.

The major concern for many here at present is the raft of sweeping changes and cuts to provision within the local health board, centred around Withybush Hospital. News that the Special Care Baby Unit was to be moved from Haverfordwest, as part of a centralisation of services into Glangwili Hospital (in the neighbouring county of Carmarthenshire) was greeted with outrage by the local community, prompting over 1,000 people to turn out for a demonstration shortly after the decision was handed down. In the last 24 hours, news has emerged that the paediatric service at Withybush hospital will become a 12 hour provision, meaning no overnight beds and should a child require admission to hospital for any reason they will have to go to Carmarthen.

The knock on effect of this will mean that in a relatively short period of time the Accident and Emergency Department at Withybush hospital will become a 12 hour provision. This in turn will result in changes to other services currently operational in Withybush, as other departments and provision move into Carmarthenshire. The argument being put forward by the Local Health Board is that centralisation of services will result in a better standard of care for patients, and a range of cost savings.

Pembrokeshire is currently accessed by two major routes, the A40 and the A477, both of which join up at St Clears before heading into Carmarthen. Last week, the A40 was closed in both directions for several hours as a result of a fatal road crash. During this closure period, the A4076 running across the Cleddau Bridge (the route that links the A40 and the A477 within the county) was closed to high sided vehicles as a result of high winds making it unsafe to cross. As such, if someone in for example St Davids in the north of the county had required transfer to Glangwili hospital in an ambulance, they would not have been able to do so due to road closures and travel restrictions.

Aside from the obvious impacts for residents of the county (expectant mothers not being able to give birth in their home county, longer transfer times to hospital, reducing access to services for day to day healthcare), there are other aspects to consider. Pembrokeshire is a popular destination for visitors, whether families, individuals, or organised youth and school groups. The population of the county increases dramatically during the summer months as thousands of people come to visit, bringing with them an income of around £520million a year for the local economy.

As the population ages, and as the requirements of risk assessments for youth group residential experiences become ever more stringent, the need to have a fully functional 24 hour A&E department gains greater importance beyond that of the local population. Downgrading the provision at Withybush General hospital will in turn result in a significant ‘voting with their feet’ of people who would otherwise have come here. The county also has an Enterprise Zone around the Milford Haven Waterway, designed to encourage investment and growth in business. The nature of the work these businesses undertake often means that they too will want to know that there is adequate emergency medical care available should there be some kind of (rare) accident. If there isn’t, there is a good chance they will take their investment and business elsewhere.

Pembrokeshire cannot afford to see degradation of the healthcare provision available at Withybush Hospital. Whether for the local population, living, working and active here all year, or for those coming to visit, enjoy what we have to offer here and bringing with them crucial income for the county, it is essential that there are comprehensive essential health care services available. The result of an application for judicial review will be known, all going well, by the end of the month, however the time to act is now – add your voice to the campaign, and make your thoughts known. Please. It could be your child, your family and friends that need these services – what would you do or how would you feel if you had to travel further whilst worrying about the health of your son or daughter?

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