'Tough choices' on hospitals in 2017 says health expert
Fundamental questions about the way NHS services in Wales are delivered remain unanswered despite being talked about for 15 years, a leading academic says.
Prof Marcus Longley predicts tough choices and unpopular decisions in 2017 about the future shape of hospitals.
There have been long-term concerns that some specialist hospital services are spread too thinly on too many sites.
Prof Longley said smaller budgets and recruitment problems would see some services "struggle".
The director of the Welsh Institute for Health and Social Care at the University of South Wales believes the problem will only get worse and said "tricky decisions" could be back in the public domain in 2017.
He said: "Fundamental issues raised, five, 10, even 15 years ago still haven't been resolved.
"We're still running something like 10 intensive care units across south Wales. Now that may be justified but it's quite difficult and expensive to sustain.
"That was flagged up as a problem several years ago and very little has changed, that issue hasn't gone away and has probably got worse."
Health officials have faced protests in recent years over decisions involving hospitals, including:
- Children's overnight care and a consultant-led maternity unit being moved from Withybush Hospital, Haverfordwest to Carmarthen to ensure "safe, sustainable services"
- Changes to maternity services at Glan Clwyd hospital due to staffing levels sparked protests before the proposal was shelved after a recruitment drive.
- Protests in 2013 over plans to downgrade A&E for serious cases at Royal Glamorgan hospital, Rhondda Cynon Taff, with a warning some specialist hospital services were "on the edge"
On wider issues facing the NHS, Prof Longley said the recruitment crisis had got worse, with particular issues for GPs and within specialist services.
He said there needed to be imaginative solutions to rising demand which were not just "reaching for the scalpel or the prescription pad".