Older People’s Commissioner sounds warning over Welsh hospital plans

Health boards have been warned the views of older people must be taken into account as they push forward major reorganisation plans for services across Wales.

Sarah Rochira said she had written to all health boards to ensure that older people were being properly engaged on plans to move some services into the community and would be looking for assurance that their views were given proper consideration.

Appearing before the National Assembly’s health and social care committee, Ms Rochira said that any changes to healthcare provision should not be a detriment for older people and any impact on them should not be disproportionate.

Currently all health boards in Wales are engaging and consulting on proposals to reconfigure hospital services through centralisation and moving many into community settings.

But concerns have been raised about the impact of the movement of some services on older people, who may find it difficult to travel further to receive the necessary care.

Questioning Ms Rochira, Plaid Cymru AM Elin Jones, said: “ I have seen good practices and appalling practices with older people and the consultation. Is there a role for you to issue guidance for pubic authorities on how to consult with older people?”

Ms Rochira said: “There were a number of concerns around service reconfiguration. The three big changes we have are on healthcare, social care and day centre care and there were huge concerns for older people and were therefore a concern for me.

“I have been very active around this. I have written to health boards saying I know these changes are going on and I understand the reasons behind them, but I outline three clear expectations – that older are effectively engaged with what is going on, that the changes are for the betterment not the detriment of older people and there is not a disproportionate impact on older people.

“I will be calling in health boards’ board papers which show their impact of engagement with older people because I want to see that they have been engaged with effectively and I want to see the evidence of this.

“I don’t think due process is a lot to ask. Older people are very good at telling us what they need. I have said to health boards send me your reconfiguration plans and I will look at the evidence.”

Ms Rochira said she wanted to act as a voice for older people to outline their concerns about things such as the future of healthcare provision.

She said: “There is a real fear about whether they are going to be able to afford the care they need. All older people want to know is that they are going to get the care they need to stay safe and care well.

“I think I am standing up and speaking out on their behalf. I have published a very clear statement about needing to do more and have already started to use my legal powers to stand up for older people. I think advocacy is very important – many older people don’t have a voice and it’s my job to do that. I am also trying to give a voice back to older people.”

Consultations on proposals for services in West and North Wales draw to a close in the next few days, with Hywel Dda health board ending their consultation on October 29 and Betsi Cadwaldr University health board finishing on October 28.

Both health boards have reiterated the importance of public involvement in the run-up to the end of the consultation period.

Betsi Cadwaladr University health board’s executive director of planning, Neil Bradshaw, said: “We have already had many people coming forward to offer their views, take part in debates and suggest alternative approaches. We have been pleased with the lively and robust debate we have had so far. As the consultation period draws to a close, we want to take this opportunity to encourage as many people as possible to share their views and opinions with us before the health board makes any decisions.”

Public meetings to discuss changes to services in South Wales are ongoing.