Royal Glamorgan Hospital: A&E 'to remain fully open'

By Owain Clarke
BBC Wales health correspondent

Image caption,
Protesters have voiced strong opposition to plans to downgrade A&E at Royal Glamorgan

Local health bosses have recommended that a full-time A&E department should be kept at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital, BBC Wales has been told.

Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board had been working on plans to either close the department completely and replace it with a minor injuries unit, or only open A&E during the day.

Bosses say they have recruited enough staff now to keep the department open.

The full health board will discuss a paper outlining the plan next Monday.

Campaigners and local politicians have welcomed the recommendation.

Pontypridd MP Alex Davies-Jones and Senedd counterpart Mick Antoniw MS both expressed satisfaction at the news.

Praising people who had campaigned to retain the full service, Mr Antoniw said: "So often the NHS has been there for us.  Today, we can all say that we were all there for our NHS."

Ms Davies-Jones added: "This is the result that everyone wanted to see and have worked so hard for."

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What was the issue?

Earlier this year bosses warned patient safety was being put at risk due to severe staff shortages at A&E at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital near Llantrisant.

The unit was heavily reliant on locum doctors and had been forced to close twice over the Christmas period due to a lack of cover.

Image caption,
An ambulance waits outside the Royal Glamorgan hospital

It meant ambulances had to be re-directed to the Prince Charles Hospital In Merthyr Tydfil or the Princess of Wales Hospital in Bridgend.

The department's only full-time consultant had announced he was leaving in April, and it was understood only 12% of middle-grade shifts were covered by full-time doctors.

One patient had already died because of an overdependence on agency or locum staff, and the health board was aware of other cases when patients were put in danger.

The NHS faces a nationwide shortage of A&E consultants, with the bigger trauma centres finding it easier to attract staff.

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What have campaigners been worried about?

Earlier this year, several protests were held outside the Senedd and health board meetings opposing any changes to the hospital's A&E.

Campaigners argued that lives would be put at risk if the department was downgraded.

They have been worried about poor transport links between some valleys communities, and that other hospitals had been prioritised for investment instead of the Royal Glamorgan.

They were angered when the health board's medical director told a Senedd committee it "may well be true" that no "substantive effort" was made to recruit A&E consultants at the hospital for five years.

Was the plan to downgrade A&E at the Royal Glamorgan new?

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In 2014, five south Wales health boards devised a plan to address concerns that maternity care, baby care, children's hospital care and emergency medicine were spread too thinly across too many hospitals.

After a public consultation, health boards and community health councils finally agreed on a series of recommendations.

These included closing A&E at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital, but in the intervening period there was little change.

In the Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board area, consultant-led maternity care has been centralised at Prince Charles Hospital.

Changes to children's hospital care have been repeatedly postponed.

Rhondda MS Leanne Wood said people would be "overjoyed and relieved" at the decision, adding: "It was clear that the campaign to retain 24 hour services had logic, reason and safety on its side.

"Our argument to retain and boost staffing levels with a clear and energetic recruitment drive was strong enough but when the coronavirus pandemic occurred, the importance of hospital capacity and local services was reinforced significantly."

Conservative MS for South Wales Central Andrew RT Davies said: "I'm pleased common sense has finally prevailed but we now need to see a strong long-term plan from health bosses to ensure residents and communities in the region are never put in this situation again with any further threats to A&E provision at Royal Glamorgan."

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