Neath Port Talbot Hospital faces acute medical care changes

NHS managers say they face changes in acute medical services at Neath Port Talbot Hospital this autumn because of difficulties recruiting enough doctors.

The Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board said changes were needed, on the advice of doctors, to ensure "a safe service for patients".

Bethan Jenkins AM said there was "deep concern locally" and Neath MP Peter Hain described it as a "betrayal".

The health board said there were no plans to close the hospital.

Hospital management are meeting next week to discuss the issue, which would affect acute patient care from September.

In a statement, the board said it had hoped not to make any changes to services until the end of year but its doctor recruitment troubles had brought forward the need to make changes.

It said: "The health board wishes to emphasise that Neath Port Talbot Hospital is not going to close.

"It will continue to play an important role in delivering clinical services within the health board."

It is set against the background of CT2-level trainee doctors being moved from the hospital to what the health board call "more suitable training environments".

These are the most senior doctors responsible for the care of acutely medically unwell patients on the wards at Neath Port Talbot.

The health board said it had acted "swiftly" to try to find alternatives but despite recruiting internationally and encouraging the appointment of academic research doctors, it had been unable to find medics "in sufficient quality and number", it said.

The statement added: "These medical staffing difficulties are not confined to acute medicine or the Neath Port Talbot Hospital site.

"Ideally we would have liked to avoid making any service changes at Neath Port Talbot Hospital until the conclusion of this process in December 2012.

"However, given the current difficulties and the need to ensure safety for patients, we need to consider making these changes at an earlier stage."

South West Wales Plaid Cymru AM Ms Jenkins said: "There have been warning signs that all is not well at NPT Hospital.

"There is deep concern locally that this is symptomatic of an intention to downgrade the hospital.

Labour MP Mr Hain said: "I just do not accept the reasoning.

"I just can't believe that the health board cannot find the doctors in a time of global recession.

"Is this being used as an excuse to slim down the hospital and betray the promises that were made to me as a local MP and a Welsh minister when the go-ahead for this PFI hospital was given?"

A Welsh government spokesman said: "The Welsh NHS is facing tough challenges, including a serious problems with training and recruiting medical staff.

'Radical change'

"This is a problem facing the whole of the UK, being addressed in Wales through the Work for Wales campaign to raise awareness of the opportunities and benefits of working for the health service in Wales.

"In line with our five-year plan for NHS Wales Together for Health there must be radical change to ensure services remain safe, accessible and sustainable.

"The changes are about a whole range of services, with the basic aim of ensuring high quality services for all.

"In future, for certain specialities, patients may need to travel slightly further to receive the very best treatment, but in many cases care can be delivered in the community, rather than in hospital."

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