Carwyn Jones steps into neonatal care row in north Wales
First Minister Carwyn Jones has said the Welsh government is preparing to look at "another model" for providing acute neonatal care in north Wales.
In the meantime, he said it was appropriate to use Arrowe Park hospital on the Wirral where necessary to maintain standards of service.
The Tory assembly leader said Mr Jones was letting people down.
Plaid Cymru said it was an admission moving to England was the "wrong approach". Lib Dems called it "fudged".
There has been widespread opposition to the proposed changes.
The Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB) proposal to move neonatal intensive care services have proved highly controversial, with assembly members from all parties voicing concerns.
However, the local community health council - the patients' watchdog - decided not to use its powers to refer the decision to Welsh government ministers.
Earlier this month, the first minister announced he would personally decide whether to "call in" the proposals.
In a statement on Thursday, Mr Jones said: "It is entirely appropriate that BCUHB continues to put in place these plans to provide services compliant with these standards for babies in north Wales.
"This includes the use of Arrowe Park where necessary."
But Mr Jones added he did want further independent advice on whether there is another model where health services can be self sufficient in north Wales for what he called "this particular important and pivotal service, within the resources available, in the longer term".
He said: "I have, therefore, decided to put in place arrangements to advise me on the future possibilities for the development of specialised neonatal services in north Wales.
"The terms of reference will include the feasibility of providing a neonatal intensive care service located within north Wales.
'Carwyn Jones fudge'
"I wish it to also look at the interdependencies with other acute services, travel distances and ensuring BCUHB maintains and builds clinical expertise."
Conservative assembly leader Andrew RT Davies said the first minister should have prevented the neonatal service's move to England immediately.
He said Mr Jones' statement was an admission that the Welsh government has not properly funded the health service in north Wales.
"This is a typical Carwyn Jones fudge ... I would have hoped he could have stopped in today to stop this.
"But unfortunately he hasn't. He's acknowledged that he's short changing the people of north Wales and it's time he took a reality check and started delivering for the people of north Wales".
Mr Davies added that the first minister's announcement that he was reviewing the decision with the aim of maintaining a service in north Wales in the long term "is a typical Carwyn Jones fudge".
Plaid Cymru North Wales AM Llyr Gruffydd said: "Today's announcement is an admission by the first minister that moving specialised neonatal services out of north Wales is the wrong approach.
"We have clearly won the argument and it's a shame that Carwyn Jones didn't admit as much months ago. Had he done so, Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board could have developed proposals to retain the service in north Wales from the start, avoiding the terrible waste of time and money in now having to consider a different approach.
'Does not make sense'
This is clear proof that the NHS lacks direction from the Welsh government which is why it is in such a mess."
Liberal Democrat AM for North Wales Aled Roberts said: "This is a classic Labour fudge.
"It is clear to me and many others from across all political parties and all communities that the proposals by the Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board have not been thought through.
"We claimed that the evidence did not support the move and the first minister appears to accept that view by making arrangements for some independent advice so why does he confirm the decision to move special care baby services to England.
"It does not make sense."
Martin Duerden, acting medical director of the health board, said they welcomed the statement "and the clarity it provides".
He said: "As a health board we remain committed to ensuring that the care new babies receive meets the required standards.
"We will continue our work to put in place plans to achieve compliance with these standards including the use of Arrowe Park Hospital.
"We will work with the Welsh government and independent advisors to look at long term future possibilities for neonatal services in north Wales."
But Mabon ap Gwynfor, spokesman for the campaigning group the North Wales Health Alliance, accused the first minister of using the Easter holiday to "bury some very bad news".
He said: "Firstly he accepts that the service should stay in the north and is looking at independent advice.
"Where on earth has he been until now - this process has been ongoing for at least two years and he and his failing health ministers have had plenty of time to get advice.
"Once this service is gone to Arrowe Park, it's gone for good."