A CASE for legal aid is being prepared as campaigners vow to keep essential services at Withybush Hospital.

A ‘woman of straw’, ie someone with no income, no partner with an income or assets, and no assets, has signed on the dotted line, meaning a solicitor can start the official legal aid application.

The solicitor behind Prince Philip campaign group SOSPPAN’s judicial review, Michael Imperato of NewLaw Solicitors, is on board to help Pembrokeshire put a stop to health changes feared dangerous for the county by many.

If legal aid is granted an application to launch a judicial review will be made with campaigners hopeful of a positive outcome at this initial stage.

Chris Overton, chairman of the Save Withybush Action Team (SWAT) said: “Mr Imperato will be putting a brief case together this week applying for legal aid and hopefully we will be up and running.

“The legal aid people have got to be convinced that it needs doing, they have to be happy there’s a 60/40 chance that it’s going to be successful as do the barrister appointed, they won’t waste their time.

“If it goes ahead it’s because it’s a good case,” he added.

SWAT hope at least 1,000 people will join the first in a series of demonstrations at Withybuish Hospital starting on Saturday, January 4.

The fight to retain services – with fears that overnight paediatric, emergency care as well as obstetrics and special care baby services could be lost – has been backed by local Assembly Members Paul Davies and Angela Burns.

Assembly debate

The Welsh Conservatives tabled a debate last week where they argued ‘core services at Withybush must remain as they are’.

Labour AM Joyce Watson has also said that it is critical Withybush retain a service that can stabilise mother and baby if complications occur, calling it a ‘red line’.

Changes to maternity services at the hospital have been called a ‘catastrophic mistake’ by Welsh Shadow Minster for Health Darren Miller, as well as Mr Davies and Mrs Burns.

They add that it would have a ‘hugely damaging impact on families across Pembrokeshire’.

Mr Davies urged First Minister Carwyn Jones to intervene as ‘confusion and worry currently overshadows communities across Pembrokeshire’.

“Centralising services in Carmarthen will add tens of miles to patient journeys and communities here will be hit disproportionately.

“I will continue to oppose any plans to cut the accident and emergency department and maternity services at Withybush Hospital.”

Following the debate in the Sennedd on Wednesday, November 27 a bid to protect services at the hospital was lost by one vote.

Preseli Pembrokeshire AM Mr Davies said, “I am appalled that the Welsh Labour Government has refused to stand up for the people of Pembrokeshire and protect our core services at Withybush hospital. This is a hugely worrying time for the constituents and the communities that I represent and I will be doing all that I can to stand up to the health board and the Government on this matter. The Health Minister tells us that change is coming to Withybush hospital. However, we in Pembrokeshire will not tolerate any reduction in services at our hospital. Downgrading core services at Withybush would be a catastrophic mistake.”

Mrs Watson accused opposition members of dealing in rumour and ‘whipping up hysteria', a claim strenuously denied by Mr Davies and Mrs Burns, who made clear they were dealing with what they were being told by staff and residents.

Mrs Watson added: "On Withybush, we are awaiting the health board’s final plans. Until then, we are debating rumours not facts.

“I absolutely support the plan for a level 2 neonatal unit in the Hywel Dda area. The fact is, at the moment, we do not have level 2 neonatal support in the Hywel Dda area. I support that because it is safe and sustainable for those babies and their mothers. It is a level of service that is not there now. That is a fact.”

SWAT campaigners, as well as staff at the Special Care Baby Unit, have always strongly denied this, making clear the services they provide is equivalent to a level 2 unit in all but name stating ‘Withybush provided 179 high dependency days last year’.

“The Withybush maternity unit is the crucial missing piece of the puzzle. Until Hywel Dda submits its proposal to the Welsh Government we cannot assess the overall plan. Those plans will be submitted to the Welsh Government before the end of the year. Hywel Dda has said that the proposed models will meet the necessary standard of safety and sustainability. That claim will rightly be scrutinised,” added Mrs Watson.

During the debate Mr Davies added that he believed health board was ‘fulfilling its objectives’ first revealed in a leaked document in 2010 which promoted centralisation of services in Carmarthen.

“In effect, the board is centralising services and downgrading Withybush Hospital through the back door, using the paediatric difficulties to do so. Perhaps one can argue that the health board is achieving what it wants to achieve. I think that that is an absolute scandal,” said Mr Davies.

The tabled vote was backed by Plaid Cymru regional AM Simon Thomas who said he had been contacted by many constituents in Pembrokeshire expressing fears and concerns about the future of the hospital.

“The latest rumours that I have heard is that the emergency unit is to close in August next year. Therefore, the first question that I have for the Minister is whether he can confirm that the emergency unit will remain at Withybush hospital, according to the plan that has been prepared by the Hywel Dda Local Health Board,” he added.

The Minister for health and social services Mark Drakeford said: “I will not be making a final decision on services for newborn babies in Withybush and Glangwili hospitals until the start of the new year. I have explained that decisions will not be made until the health board has given an explanation regarding the obstetric services, and until that information has been considered by the independent scrutiny panel. Discussing and hypothesising about these matters at present does not help.”

He added: “It is the inescapable fact that the annual number of births in the Hywel Dda area is low. There are around 500 at Bronglais, 1,200 at Withybush and 1,600 at Glangwili. The relevant royal colleges recommend, for reasons of best outcomes for mothers and babies, that any consultant should have responsibility for 500 births in any year. Arrangements at Hywel Dda currently mean that any obstetrician or gynaecologist currently in its employment would, on average, oversee 214 births in a year. That is well below half that required to meet royal college standards. Little wonder, then, that the scrutiny panel’s core conclusion was that the number of live births that take place in west Wales means that it will not be possible in the future to continue providing specialist services at more than one site. That is the inescapable background to the additional work being carried out by the health board, which it intends to conclude by the first week in December.

“I have heard many calls this afternoon for political leadership on this matter. So, let me end with this unambiguous message. Change is coming to Withybush hospital, as it is coming to all other parts of Wales, as we align our services to the new possibilities created by medical advances and make those advances available to all Welsh patients.”

'Delay in paediatricans move'

The Western Telegraph understands that a planned move by the postgraduate deanery to centralise trainee paediatricians at Carmarthen – impacting on full paediatric care in the county - has been delayed until August.

A Hywel Dda Health Board spokesman said: “We are still in discussions with the deanery about providing training that meets the quality standards. These discussions are ongoing. We understand that there is currently a lot of speculation about the future of health services locally but we would like to reassure people that as soon as we have any firm decisions, we will communicate these widely to staff and the public.”

Last week there were reports that patients had to wait in ambulances at Llanelli’s Prince Philip Hospital a situation the campaigners on the Save Essential Services at Withybush Facebook page have said also occurred at Withybush and Glangwili.

A health board spokesman said: “The health board must make operational decisions every day to ensure our services can meet the needs of patients and are delivered safely. Due to hospital capacity pressures across the Health Board our hospitals support each other to manage this demand.

“We strongly encourage members of the public who have a minor injury or illness to please consider other options of care including: self-care, seeking advice from their local pharmacist / GP or attending minor injury services. Full details on local services can be found at www.choosewellwales.org.uk or by calling NHS Direct Wales on 0845 46 47. In a potentially life threatening situation always call 999.”