By the Rt Hon David Jones MP
Back in 2007, I chaired a packed meeting in Colwyn Bay town hall. I had called it to discuss controversial plans by the Welsh Assembly Government to divert all elective neurosurgery operations from Liverpool’s Walton Centre to hospitals in Cardiff or Swansea.
The proposal had gone down very badly indeed. About 600 patients in North Wales relied on Walton, an internationally renowned centre of excellence. It was convenient and held in high regard. A bumpy five-hour journey down the A470 in the back of an ambulance was too dreadful to contemplate.
The degree of anger voiced in Colwyn Bay clearly made itself heard. The Welsh health minister, Edwina Hart, did a relatively sharp U-turn. Eight years later, that anger is now being echoed in the reaction to plans by the Betsi Cadwaladr health board to suspend consultant-led maternity care in Ysbyty Glan Clwyd. Midwife-led care will continue to be available, but in any case of complication, expectant mothers will be sent to Bangor or Wrexham.
Unsurprisingly, people are very concerned. The Daily Post’s Clare Hickie summed up that concern when she wrote that pregnancy “is a time when the lives of both mother and baby can be at risk, which is why it is crucial specialist medical care is close at hand.”
The root of the problem at Glan Clwyd, it appears, is the difficulty experienced by the health board in recruiting and retaining senior medical staff. The problem, however, is not a new one. Several years ago, I was told by senior officials of the board that clinicians were increasingly reluctant to take up posts in North Wales. The difficulty was not salary, which is set on a national scale, but rather that Wales was not seen as a place in which to progress a medical career.
I am deeply concerned about the Glan Clwyd proposals and will lend my voice to the campaign for them to be reversed. But the fact is that the announcement is only the latest of a series of worrying developments that must cause people to wonder whether the Welsh Government is, to be frank, capable of running an acceptable health service for the people of Wales.
Week after week in my constituency office, I meet local people who are desperately worried about the care they receive from the Welsh NHS. People who wait for operations for much longer than they would if they lived just a few miles down the road in England. People who can’t access cancer drugs because, shamefully, there is no cancer drugs fund in Wales. People like the agony-stricken constituent from Abergele who can’t get access to a leading pain management centre, because it’s in England and the Welsh bureaucracy refuses to let her go there.
The professional staff of Wales’s hospitals can’t be blamed for this state of affairs. They are equally as qualified, dedicated and caring as their counterparts anywhere.
No, the fault is the political mismanagement of the health service in Wales, over many years, by the Welsh Government. Despite repeated assurances that they are working hard to improve things, things never do improve. They just get worse.
It is in the nature of politics that an event happens that causes people to say: “Enough is enough.” I have a suspicion that, in terms of North Wales health care, the Glan Clwyd announcement may prove to be that event.
Maybe, too, it will be the catalyst that causes the Welsh Government finally to admit the severity of their problems with healthcare in Wales and to turn to the Department of Health in Westminster for help in turning things round.
Please let them do that, as soon as possible. Enough is enough.