North Wales health revamp 'legal challenge' plan

Campaign groups will join together to consider a legal challenge

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Campaigners against major changes to the health service in north Wales are considering a legal challenge.

A group fighting the shake up was formed at a meeting in St Asaph, Denbighshire, on Monday night.

It follows Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board's decision to shut four community hospitals and transfer care for seriously ill babies to England.

The board says changes are needed to meet cost cutting targets and provide effective health care in the future.

It cites an ageing population, the need to retain and recruit medical expertise and financial strain.

The campaigners say they are representing numerous local groups trying to save local hospitals and services across north Wales.

They are seeking legal advice with a view to forcing a judicial review into the controversial reorganisation scheme.

Around 30 campaigners from Llandudno, Flint, Prestatyn, Llangollen and Blaenau Ffestiniog attended a meeting in St Asaph.

They agreed to unite and campaign as the North Wales Health Alliance, and another meeting is planned for Friday.

Mabon ap Gwynfor, one of the alliance leaders, said they would seek legal advice on opposing the entire reorganisation process rather than just parts of it.

"So far the advice that some of us have received individually is that we believe the consultation process [of the reorganisation] to be flawed," he said.

"As a united group it makes sense that we come together and we seek legal advice on the whole process, on the consultation in its entirety."

The campaigners claim the health board failed to consult adequately over community hospital closures and proposals to move care for seriously ill babies to Arrowe Park on Wirral. The board denies this.

Partisan role

They also say they have "reservations" about the executive board of the local health watchdog, Betsi Cadwaladr Community Health Council (CHC), and called on it to "represent the community's views".

The CHC said it had been listening carefully to views but had been told by the Welsh government that it could not play a partisan role and that the status quo was not an option.

Dr Christine Evans, chair of the CHC, said there was also a problem because the health service did not have "enough resources and staff to have everything everywhere".

The CHC executive is meeting on Wednesday afternoon to decide whether or not to refer any of the health board's decisions to the health minister.

"We have to be careful if we're referring to the minister that we have a real nuts and bolts case for it," she told BBC Wales.

"We can't just refer it because we don't like it."

The health board announced in January that community hospitals at Blaenau Ffestiniog, Flint, Llangollen and Prestatyn would close and services switched to 10 other locations.

Sparked protests

Several protests have been held since and, while health bosses in north Wales acknowledge the changes are contentious, they say doing nothing is not an option.

They have said the population is changing and there is a trend to do as much as possible in the community while centralising specialist services.

First Minister Carwyn Jones has said health services would "collapse" unless hospitals were reorganised and changes to the NHS in Wales were necessary.

Wales' seven health boards are finalising reorganisation plans, many of which have sparked protests by opponents.

Meanwhile a report by the assembly's public accounts committee on Tuesday has criticised health boards for failing to plan their budgets properly, claiming many were guilty of "unrealistic and over-ambitious" forecasts.

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