South West Wales

Protest over Withybush hospital special care baby unit closure plan

Protesters
Image caption Protesters met on Sunday to voice fears over proposed changes at Withybush hospital
Withybush protest
Image caption The march gathered at the hospital and went through Haverfordwest
Protesters
Image caption The plans have caused mounting opposition since being revealed a year ago
Families joined the protest
Image caption Despite the weather, families and people of all ages took part in the protest
Woman with sign
Image caption One issue concerning residents is the time it takes to get to hospital
Protesters
Image caption Protest leaders said the turnout showed the strength of feeling

About 1,000 people have marched against plans to centralise specialist care for babies born in west Wales.

The changes would mean that the special care baby unit at Withybush hospital in Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, would close.

Hywel Dda health board said the changes - announced by the health minister on Tuesday - would provide a better level of care.

But protest leaders said the "foolish" plans would put lives at risk.

Opponents marched through Haverfordwest on Sunday morning to voice their concerns.

Chris Overton, the chair of the Save Withybush Action Team (SWAT), said the turnout showed the strength of feeling, adding it was "unbelievable" that Health Minister Mark Drakeford thought the new system would be a safe service.

"I've coined a new phrase, the 'Sutton test' - after Kate Sutton from Johnston near Haverfordwest who lost her baby and nearly died herself," he said.

"I ask whether someone in a similar position will be safe when the new system is in place. I don't think they would be.

"I think everyone is concerned more and more across the county that these services are going to be cut."

Mr Overton, who is a consultant obstetrician at Withybush, said of the health board's plans: "They are making a very foolish mistake and people are going to lose their lives."

Panel of experts

The changes are part of a reorganisation by the health board.

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

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

The plans were initially revealed a year ago by the health board but were vetoed by the local patients watchdog over concerns that closing the special care baby unit in Haverfordwest could put lives at risk.

That meant Mr Drakeford had to step in to review the decision himself, and he has taken advice from a panel of experts.

The panel advising Mr Drakeford indicated providing special baby care units across the health board was "neither safe nor sustainable".

Last week the minister said the interim measures included developing an all-Wales round-the-clock emergency transport service for mothers and babies needing urgent care.

At the time Hywel Dda Health Board medical director Sue Fish said: "The neonatal unit in Glangwili (Carmarthen) will provide a level of care that we currently don't have available for any of our babies [born] within Hywel Dda.

"They currently have to go outside the area, so they would be able to have their care nearer to home than they would do otherwise."

SWAT has already applied for a judicial review of plans at Withybush hospital and a decision on that is due "by the end of February", Mr Overton said.

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