Bronglais protesters demand protection for hospital

They travelled from mid Wales to Cardiff Bay by the bus load to voice their concerns

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Protesters have called on the health minister to protect services at Aberystwyth's Bronglais Hospital.

Hundreds of campaigners have held a demonstration outside the Welsh assembly, prompted by fears that services could be moved elsewhere.

Hywel Dda Health Board said no decisions had been made.

It comes amid a political row about the safety of patients, with the Welsh government accusing opponents of scaremongering.

Concerns have been raised by senior staff at Bronglais Hospital that services could be moved to West Wales General Hospital in Carmarthen.

A delegation including former Labour MP Lord Elystan-Morgan met Health Minister Lesley Griffiths after people from across mid Wales protested on the steps of the Senedd in Cardiff Bay on Tuesday.

He told the protest that Bronglais had been "run down" before the creation of Hywel Dda Health Board, which is responsible for the NHS in mid and west Wales.

Start Quote

Our commitment to Bronglais is clear”

End Quote Carwyn Jones First Minister

"But when Hywel Dda came to be that process was accelerated and accelerated with gusto," he said.

The crowd jeered Mrs Griffiths's name as they were addressed by politicians from the main parties.

Mid and West Wales Labour AM Joyce Watson was drowned out when she told the crowd she had a "clear message that the government has no plans to downgrade Bronglais".

The hospital serves Ceredigion, parts of Powys and south Gwynedd, and it is the only district general hospital in mid Wales.

Busloads of people from the region travelled to the Welsh capital on Wednesday.

Ceredigion AM Elin Jones, of Plaid Cymru, said she rejected Labour's claim she had been "scaremongering".

"This isn't party political. This is about the people of mid Wales having the right to live within an hour of emergency hospital intervention that can save lives," she said.

'False information'

Ceredigion's Liberal Democrat MP Mark Williams said: "The decisions and the governance of the health services in Wales is in this place.

"Part of that responsibility is to hold the health board to account."

In a statement issued after the hospital was raised in the Senedd on Tuesday, First Minister Carwyn Jones said people had been given "false information which is causing unnecessary concern and unease".

Analysis

You'd be forgiven for having a sense of deja vu over today's events.

Patients with placards on the steps of the Senedd are not a new phenomenon.

The last attempts at hospital reorganisation in 2006 resulted in similar scenes - with busloads arriving from as far afield as Llandudno, Haverfordwest and Builth Wells.

Ultimately those demonstrations led to the most controversial plans being ditched, and today's campaigners will hope to yield similar results.

But the need for modernisation hasn't gone away - the status quo, according to the Welsh government, is not an option.

This time around the stakes have been raised by the disquiet of so many doctors.

Earlier this month 50 senior medics from Bronglais signed a letter to say they had lost all confidence in their health board.

That clearly undermines the theory hospital reorganisation in 2012 will be driven by clinicians, not accountants.

He said: "I would like to make it perfectly clear, there are no plans to close Bronglais Hospital. There are no plans to downgrade Bronglais Hospital. District general hospitals, like Bronglais, will continue to be district general hospitals.

"Our commitment to Bronglais is clear - and reinforced by the £38m investment we have made in the hospital over the past few years."

A spokesperson for Mrs Griffiths said the Welsh government did not "intend to see the downgrading of any health services in Wales".

Health boards "are currently in listening mode, to establish how services can be improved, to make them safe, sustainable, effective and as near to home as possible in the years ahead", the spokesperson added.

"To suggest that life-saving services are to be moved further away as a matter of fact is at best disingenuous, at worst untrue dangerous scaremongering."

Hywel Dda said more than 1,100 people had attended eight public meetings as part of a "listening and engagement exercise".

In a statement it said: "This is not a consultation but a series of engagement events with the public, staff and stakeholders aimed at increasing understanding of the challenges facing the NHS in Wales, debating local healthcare provision and informing future consultation options.

"No change is not an option as our services must meet safety and quality standards and we will not consider unsafe solutions."

A formal consultation is due to take place later this year.

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