North Wales neonatal care review decision overturned

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Media captionThe original decision was taken due to lack of specialist staff

A decision to transfer specialist care for some of sickest and most premature babies in north Wales to England has been overturned by the first minister.

Carwyn Jones said he accepted an independent review's suggestion that intensive care for babies be centralised at one north Wales site.

But he said some babies needing the highest care level will need to go to Arrowe Park hospital on the Wirral.

The original decision was taken due to lack of specialist staff.

Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB) announced plans earlier this year to move specialist intensive care for babies across the border.

But Mr Jones said the decision on Tuesday means the number of babies needing treatment in north west England each year would be "in the low tens".

Mr Jones told AMs the best location, for the so called, sub-regional neonatal intensive care centre will be discussed by an independent panel that will report to him in the coming months.

Currently two hospitals in north Wales provide specialist (level 3) neonatal care - Glan Clwyd hospital in Bodelwyddan and Wrexham Maelor hospital.

Mr Jones said his decision would mean the vast majority of babies needing high level care could be treated in north Wales

But he also said he was rejecting a proposal that would see all levels of neonatal services provided exclusively in north Wales.

The first minister told assembly members that model could take 10 years to achieve and that the extra staff and costs associated with it meant it was not an option he was pursuing at this time.

"This review supports the widely known principles that to deliver safe and sustainable services some centralisation of expertise must take place," he said.

"I want to see the best services possible available to the people of Wales and I anticipate this review and subsequent actions will lead to the delivery of strong, sustainable services."

BCUHB welcomed the review and Mr Jones's response to it.

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Media captionCarwyn Jones said only the most seriously ill babies would be treated in England

In a statement the health board said: "We are pleased that the decisions taken by the board to make sure that the most premature and seriously ill babies from north Wales are cared for by a specialist neonatal team have been supported.

"The report is an important step forward and will help to ensure that we can continue to deliver most of the neonatal services locally.

"We look forward to working with the independent panel to consider where these services will be located in the future," the statement concluded.

Ministers launched the review after opposition to the health board's original plans.

There were protests from parents, medical professionals and politicians.

The health board estimated around 36 babies a year would be affected by its proposals.

In the spring, the first minister asked the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) to review the decision to see if it would be possible to keep high level baby care at at least one north Wales hospital.

That review has now recommended:

  • Arrangements to send the most premature babies to Arrowe Park should continue as a wholly Welsh solution that meets national standards could not be developed within 10 years.
  • Neonatal intensive care should be centralised in one north Wales hospital.
  • There should be five extra consultants.
  • There must be a "significant investment" in neonatal services in north Wales alongside strong clinical and organisational leadership to ensure "the vast majority of infants continue to receive their medical care in Wales".

The review warns that without investment, it believes the Welsh government's aspirations for neonatal care "will only be realised by increasing numbers of infants being transferred to England."

Shadow Health Minister Darren Millar said the report "goes some way" towards ending "uncertainty" in communities across north Wales.

"A cross-party campaign long warned that axing long-term neonatal care in the region was dangerous - a view supported by health professionals and clinicians.

"Communities have been left in limbo for far too long and a site for a new centralised centre for neonatal care must now be identified as soon as possible."

But Plaid Cymru North Wales AM Llyr Gruffydd accused Mr Jones of not wanting to take responsibility "on matters that directly affect the people of Wales".

"The Labour government's plans mean that our most vulnerable babies will be sent to the NHS in England that the first minister has been so critical of.

"Plaid Cymru has always made the case for the retention of these life-saving services in north Wales, and for north Wales to maintain this level of expertise."

Liberal Democrat AM Aled Roberts said there needed to be more clarity on what would happen next, the timescale involved and he raised questions over governance arrangements between the health board and Arrowe Park hospital.

"I think it's this confidence in the transparency of governance and practical arrangements going forward that is really missing from our relationship with Betsi Cadwaladr at the current time," he said.

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