South West Wales

Senedd protest over west Wales specialist baby care changes

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Media captionCampaigners travelled from Pembrokeshire to protest about baby care unit changes

Hundreds of campaigners opposing changes to specialist baby care in west Wales have protested at the assembly.

The plans would mean Withybush Hospital's special care baby unit in Haverfordwest would close.

Hywel Dda health board and the Welsh government have said the changes would provide a better level of care.

Campaigner Chris Overton said Health Minister Mark Drakeford refused to see him. Mr Drakeford met other protestors and said he was "happy" to do so.

Dr Overton, chair of the Save Withybush Action Team (SWAT) and a consultant obstetrician at Withybush, said on Facebook: "Minister refused to see me today. No reason given."

However, Mr Drakeford posted on twitter "I was happy to meet campaigners from Pembrokeshire this morning as arranged - I hope they found the meeting useful."

Last month, about 1,000 people marched in protest at the controversial plans.

Panel of experts

Under the proposed new system, doctors in Carmarthen will provide specialist care, with other hospitals eventually providing a midwife-led service.

Bronglais Hospital in Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, will become a midwife-led maternity unit, although during the transition period it will also retain some consultants.

The plans were initially revealed a year ago by the health board, but were vetoed by the local patients watchdog over concerns that closing the special care baby unit in Haverfordwest could put lives at risk.

It meant Mr Drakeford stepped in to review the decision himself, and took advice from a panel of experts.

The advisory panel indicated providing special baby care units across the health board was "neither safe nor sustainable".

On Wednesday, Mark Drakeford had agreed to meet a small delegation, which was to include AMs, Joyce Watson and Rebecca Evans.

Ms Evans said it was a chance for the minister to "address the concerns in detail".

Ms Watson added: "The minister has confirmed that, while the midwife-led unit is being set up at Withybush, there will be consultant obstetric cover to support midwives.

"However, it is critical that all services in place after this initial establishing phase are built around the safety of mothers and babies."

Dr Overton recently wrote to Mr Drakeford and received a reply from Wales' chief medical officer, Dr Ruth Hussey.

'Rights of the child'

In it, she wrote: "The service changes being implemented actively promote the rights of the child by increasing the likelihood of survival and long term wellbeing for sick and premature babies needing intensive care.

"This will be achieved through the increased compliance with British Association of Perinatal Medicine (BAPM) standards that the reconfigured service will provide."

In a reply to Dr Hussey, Dr Overton wrote: "As a doctor it is my duty to raise concerns when potential patients are being put in danger. I will continue to do so with my last breath."

In another email, he asked: "How is it safer for a child with epiglottitis or a severe asthma attack to have to travel 45 minutes further in an emergency?

"How is it safer for a heavily pregnant woman bleeding to death as recently reported in the papers to have to travel 45 minutes further in an emergency?"

He has branded the plans a "very foolish mistake" which will cost lives.

The Welsh government said: "The advice of the expert panel on the future of neonatal services in Hywel Dda was clear: attempting to continue to provide neonatal specialist services across all Hywel Dda hospitals is neither safe nor sustainable.

"The minister accepted the panel's advice to develop a modern Level 2 Neonatal Unit at Glangwili Hospital, which will serve the population of Pembrokeshire in a way which will allow clinicians to maintain their expertise and so provide the best possible service for mothers and their babies."

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