Withybush baby unit closure must not happen, say campaigners

Withybush hospital Campaigners have vowed to try to save the special baby care unit at Withybush

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A campaign group says it will fight plans to centralise specialist care for babies born in west Wales.

If the plan goes ahead it would mean that the special care baby unit at Withybush hospital in Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, would close.

Save Withybush Action Team (SWAT) said it was planning a series of activities including a protest march at the weekend.

The proposed changes were announced by the health minister on Tuesday.

The decision to close the special care baby unit at Withybush hospital is part of a Hywel Dda health board reorganisation.

Analysis

Lots of questions are now emerging about the detail.

What it boils down to is a fundamental difference of opinion which I suspect cannot be reconciled.

This was supposed to be the final chapter in a long-running saga of west Wales hospital reorganisation, but this will not be the last of it.

Campaigners are seeking a judicial review and there are also changes in A&E services at Llanelli and plans to close a minor injuries unit in Tenby.

In north Wales there are a few details to be hammered out after the first minister proposed a revised plan for neonatal care.

But the big, unanswered question still is what will the plans look like for south Wales.

We know they will involve some centralising of hospital services such as A&E, but the key question is where.

An announcement was due last month but it was cancelled.

Now we are hoping to get it next month - and the decisions in south Wales could be equally controversial.

Under the new model, doctors in Carmarthen will provide specialist care, with other hospitals eventually providing a midwife-led service.

Bronglais hospital in Aberystwyth will also become a midwife-led maternity unity, although during the transition period it will also retain some consultants.

Chris Overton, the chair of SWAT, said he was disappointed but not surprised by the decision to move the specialist baby services to Carmarthen.

Mr Overton, a consultant obstetrician at Withybush, said he believed that taking the special baby care away would have a knock-on effect on other services, including the A&E unit.

He added that it was just not feasible for any mother-to-be with complications to travel further for a birth.

There were examples where people's lives would be at risk if the changes went ahead, he said.

He referred to the case of Kate Sutton from Johnston near Haverfordwest, who lost her baby and nearly died herself.

"She would hot have survived if she had had to travel further," he said.

Ms Sutton had told BBC Wales: "I was minutes from death. And if that service was not available like it was to me that night, I would not be sitting here today."

Mr Overton said that in another case a woman expecting twins had walked into the unit at Withybush and the babies were born in 10 minutes.

"She would not have been able to travel any further. She would have given birth on the way," he said.

'Panel of experts'

"Glangwili on a good day is 40 minutes away, or an hour in summer. But there are also often problems with accidents blocking the main A477 and A40 when everything is gridlocked."

Start Quote

We'll use people power. We'll do whatever we can”

End Quote Chris Overton Consultant obstetrician

SWAT has already applied for a judicial review of plans at the hospital but a decision on that is not due until the middle of February.

Meanwhile, the group is planning action including a protest march at the weekend.

"We'll use people power. We'll do whatever we can," said Mr Overton.

"We have a committee of 12 people, and in the last demo between 700 and 800 turned out.

"We're hoping that this number will double now as people get to hear about this decision."

Health Minister Mark Drakeford said on Tuesday that the panel of experts who recommended the changes had included important safeguards, and suggested a phased introduction.

The minister said there would be a safety net to provide skilled assistance for midwives in the event of an unexpected emergency,

There would also be robust emergency transfer arrangements, he said.

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