Plaid Fears Hospital Is Still Under Threat

Plans to downgrade or even shut a West Wales hospital could be back on the agenda, campaigners fear. People power forced controversial changes to hospitals across the region back to the drawing board last year.

But Plaid Cymru believes that a new forum set up to look at the future of hospital services in Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire, will again propose to downgrade or close Withybush Hospital in Haverfordwest, after the Assembly elections in May.

And it has been claimed that the Welsh Assembly Government is attempting to fast track the merger of three West Wales NHS Trusts – another proposal in the Designed to Deliver plan, which was rejected last year.

The three-counties planning forum, set up to develop proposals for reconfiguration in the area, will be chaired by Dr Bruce Ferguson, medical director of Bro Morgannwg NHS Trust.

But Plaid Cymru has called for a block on his appointment because he was involved with developing the original Designed to Deliver proposals.

These plans proposed either shutting Withybush and West Wales General Hospital in Carmarthen, and building a new hospital between the two; or centralising services from both Withybush and Bronglais Hospital in Aberystwyth.

John Osmond, Plaid’s Preseli Pembrokeshire candidate in the forthcoming Assembly election, said, “In appointing Dr Ferguson, the Labour Assembly Government has signalled that downgrading Withybush is still on the agenda – and with a vengeance.”

He claims that in meetings with consultants at Withybush in recent weeks, Assembly Government officials have indicated that the original Designed to Deliver plan is still being considered, rather than proposals put forward by Pembrokeshire Community Health Council, which made a case for retaining and strengthening services at Withybush Hospital.

John Dixon, Plaid’s candidate for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, added, “Dr Ferguson was centrally involved in the team which came up with the options for either downgrading Withybush and centralising key surgical activity, such as maternity services in Carmarthen, or building a new hospital near Whitland.”

Plaid also claimed the Assembly Government has set up a team to fast track the merger of Carmarthenshire, Pembroke- shire and Derwen and Ceredigion and Mid Wales trusts.

Shadow Health Minister Helen Mary Jones said, “This process is being undertaken in secret and without consultation. The aim is to have a shadow trust for Dyfed up and running before the end of 2007. But all the experience we have of trust mergers is for the smaller ones to lose out.”

An Assembly Government spokesman said, “An independently-chaired and directed project board is looking at proposals for the merger of the Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire NHS trusts. The Minister has asked for practical plans for a single trust to be completed for consideration by the Assembly Government that will be in place after May’s election.

“Consideration will be given to the issues that were raised in the recent consultation on acute health services. The thoughts of residents and health professionals are key to this process and it will be the needs of patients that determines any action that is taken.”

The Western Mail was last night unable to contact Dr Ferguson, for comment. But speaking last week about the forum’s role, said, “I am convinced that the eventual solution to networking services must come from the clinicians themselves, and this process is designed to ensure engagement at all levels.”

Bernardine Rees, chief executive of Pembrokeshire LHB and the planning forum’s project director, said last week, “Everyone agrees that the health service needs to change. The forum, which will include health professionals and patient representatives, will look at how the four hospitals serving the region can work together more closely and how community services can be developed to respond more effectively to people’s needs.”