The news that the NHS Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital will no longer accept North Wales patients due to a "shortfall in funding from Wales" is extremely worrying news -- especially as so many residents from Ynys Môn and elsewhere in North Wales rely on the excellent treatment available there (including the author of the excellent Anglesey Telegraph blog). Until now the LHCH has apparently been carrying out up to 70 pre-planned elective operations on Welsh patients and dealing with up to 50 more urgent cases each month. According to the Daily Post some Welsh patients waiting for heart bypass and cardiac valve surgery have now been told that they have been "bumped off the waiting lists". Dr Eamonn Jessop, vice-chairman of the North Wales Local Medical Committee, says the situation is a "unmitigated disaster" which will "put patients lives at risk". Presumably North Wales patients will now need to travel down to hospitals in South Wales in order to receive such treatment. Not only is this a considerable journey for people who are seriously unwell, it is also counter to the long standing geographic and human links between North Wales and North West England.
Personally I am amazed that this extremely serious situation has been allowed to come this far without being addressed sooner -- its difficult to imagine that a similar situation would have been allowed to arise in South Wales for example.
However this episode unfortunately provides yet further evidence that there are serious problems with with Welsh NHS funding -- particularly in North Wales. In November we learned that the Betsi Cadawaladr University Health Board planned to possibly cut maternity services in Ysbyty Gwynedd, Glan Clwyd and Werxham Maelor to provide midwife-led units. Speaking about these proposals the same Dr Jessup told BBC Radio Wales, "If we say there are 10 women in Glan Clwyd that have to have caesareans performed in 15 minutes, they cannot have that done, and that will be five to 10 babies who will die ... I'm sorry to put it that bluntly, but I really cannot see any way around that, and it will undoubtedly cause perinatal death, I'm afraid". These plans are now being reviewed I understand, but remarkably North Wales residents campaigning to preserve the Special Care Baby Units in Wrexam, Conwy and Wrexham were earlier dubbed "mischief makers" by WAG Health Minister, Edwina Hart, who further suggested that those concerned should take their children to London's Great Ormond Street Hospital "to get the best treatment". Not very reassuring.
What is the cause of these budgetary problems? Simply put the Labour-Plaid coalition in WAG have already announced that the Welsh NHS budget will be cut by £435 million this year, and by a further £885 million over the next three years. Even allowing for waste within the service these levels of cuts will almost certainly have consequences as we are already discovering in North Wales. The Welsh Conservatives' alternative proposals of ring-fencing health spending in Wales have been criticised for engendering deeper cuts in other government departments -- however my own personal opinion is that politics in this age of austerity is all about setting priorities. We need to accept that not all government spending is equal and that some services -- especially health services -- are so important to all of us that they deserve greater protection.
If you are an Ynys Môn resident who has been affected by any of these issues, please do get in touch through the contact me section above.