Wales NHS: Abandon south Wales A&E shake-up, say Conservatives
There are calls for a major shake up of accident and emergency services in south Wales to be abandoned due to the crisis in demand.
The Conservatives said it would be "unacceptable" due to to increased pressure at casualty units.
The NHS is due to announce a cut in number of specialist A&E departments in south Wales from seven to four or five.
Officials say the current range of services can no longer be provided safely at all hospitals.
They say the planned changes, due to be unveiled this month, will result in the most seriously ill patients seeing consultants more quickly, although they may have to travel further.
Hospitals across Wales have said they have faced "unprecedented" levels of admissions this spring, with A&E consultants warning their departments are at "meltdown" due to overcrowding and a bed shortage.
Conservative health spokesman Darren Millar AM said: "With demand for our emergency services on the rise, any plans to downgrade up to half of A&E departments in south Wales are unacceptable and must be abandoned.
"Whilst sensible service modernisation in the region is something that we can all support, foolish plans to strip away emergency services from local hospitals are the very last thing that patients in south Wales will be prepared to accept.
"I urge the Welsh government to step in and guarantee that all A&E departments will retain their current levels of service."
Called the South Wales Programme, the changes will cover five health board areas, stretching from Swansea to Cardiff, as well as Powys.
Some high level accident and emergency services would be centralised from seven sites to four or five.
These units would be led by consultants around the clock and throughout the week.
One would be the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff and another would be in Swansea.
There are plans for a new critical care centre in Llanfrechfa near Cwmbran that would take services from the Royal Gwent in Newport and Nevill Hall in Abergavenny.
A fourth or fifth site will be chosen from Prince Charles Hospital in Merthyr Tydfil, the Princess of Wales in Bridgend and the Royal Glamorgan in Llantrisant.
'Right to intervene'
Previously announced changes to health services in north and west Wales have proved highly controversial.
Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board in north Wales had planned to move intensive care for babies out of the region to Arrowe Park Hospital in Wirral.
However, First Minister Carwyn Jones ordered a review of the decision after a public consultation to see whether the services could be retained in Wales.
Asked whether he would make a similar intervention in south Wales if the changes proved to be as unpopular, Mr Jones said: "We expect the programme board to come up with its recommendations, but of course Welsh ministers do reserve the right to intervene when that's appropriate."
He said he intervened in the north Wales shake up because of his concern about whether "we rely on Arrowe Park being there in the future".
Mr Jones would not speculate on the south Wales proposals but added: "If there's talk of a crisis in A&E then that's the time to change things. Doing nothing is not an option".
'Safe and sustainable'
Speaking on behalf of the health boards involved in the South Wales Programme, Dr Grant Robinson, medical director of Aneurin Bevan Health Board, said: "We cannot continue to provide all these services in every location across south Wales.
"We need to concentrate these services to ensure all patients receive safe and sustainable care.
"We want all patients in south Wales and south Powys to be seen by a senior clinician as soon as they arrive at hospital - whatever time of day or night. This will mean they get the right diagnosis, start the right treatment quicker and get better faster."
He said the best way to do that was concentrating clinical services in fewer hospitals - either four or five.
Dr Robinson added: "This is not about reducing access to care - we want to provide as much senior medical care as locally as possible where it is safe to do so and, in the case of emergency medicine, the vast majority of patients who need emergency care will continue to receive it at their local hospital."