South Wales hospital shake-up plans defended

Accident and emergency
Image caption Changes could be introduced next spring after a public consultation

Health bosses have defended proposals to concentrate some specialist hospital services in south Wales in four or five locations.

The Conservatives and Plaid Cymru have expressed concerns that the plans could see key local health services downgraded or closed.

Seven hospitals between Swansea and Newport provide a range of specialist services for the most sick patients.

Health boards say plans would deliver services among the best in the world.

The current shape of NHS in south Wales is based on a model of district general hospitals developed in the 1960s.

But the health boards say that is unsuited to deal with modern pressures on the health service.

Centralising some services, such as high-level care for children and newborn babies, in fewer large hospitals would allow patients to get access to the best care around the clock, they said.

"Everything is saying to us as clinicians that the status quo how we deliver at present isn't an option for the future," said Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board medical director Dr Bruce Ferguson.

Cathy O'Sullivan, chief officer of the Aneurin Bevan Community Health Board, the watchdog for the former Gwent area, said modernisation was "absolutely necessary" to sustain services.

"I think the issue around recruitment and retention of staff is crucial," she said.

"Safe services can only be delivered when we have got the appropriate staff there to provide them."

Failing to recruit

Health Minister Lesley Griffiths said it was essential patients had safe, sustainable services as close to home as possible - and the status quo was not an option.

But the Conservatives said the plans would lead to the downgrading of hospitals, and blamed the Welsh government for failing to recruit enough doctors.

Andrew RT Davies, Tory leader in the assembly, told BBC Wales: "[The current system] is unsustainable because they are unable to find the clinicians to fill the rotas.

"It is my contention this is happening because the health service in Wales has been starved of cash, and the Welsh government, and Carwyn Jones as particular as first minister, has failed to fill the medical rosters by supporting the health boards in recruiting doctors into Wales."

Plaid Cymru said it would protect services in district general hospitals but a turf war must be avoided.

Both parties are urging the public to contribute to the debate before the plans are finalised.

The shake-up would affect hospitals between Newport, Cardiff and Swansea, and those in the valleys.

Critical care

Obstetric, neonatal, in-patient paediatric and some high-level accident and emergency services would be centralised at four or five sites.

They would include the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff and another in Swansea.

There are plans for a new critical care centre in Llanfrechfa near Cwmbran that would take services from the Royal Gwent in Newport and Nevill Hall in Abergavenny.

A fourth or fifth site will be chosen from Prince Charles hospital in Merthyr Tydfil, Princess of Wales in Bridgend and the Royal Glamorgan in Llantrisant.

Another unit for major trauma cases treating the most serious emergencies will be chosen.

Changes could be introduced next spring after a public consultation.

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