Health minister accused of using out of date figures to decide baby care plans

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OUT-DATED figures have been used by the Health Minister as he prepares to announce what services will be cut at Withybush Hospital Plaid Cymru alleges.

Mark Drakeford is due to make an announcement on the future of neo-natal maternity services on January 21 and it appears likely that Hywel Dda plans to move special baby care services to a new level 2 unit in Carmarthen will be approved.

According to John Osmond, Plaid Cymru’s candidate in Preseli Pembrokeshire Mr Drakeford should rethink his plans as research has uncovered a ‘basic error in the government’s calculations’.

This has been strongly refuted by the Welsh Government.

Mr Osmond said: “In a debate on the proposed cuts in the Senedd on 27 November, 2013 Mark Drakeford made clear he was minded to support these changes. He said it was ‘an inescapable fact’ that the annual number of births in the Hywel Dda area was low - around 1,200 in Withybush, 500 at Bronglais in Aberystwyth, and 1,600 at Glangwili.

“Mr Drakeford claimed that 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.

“He also claimed that any obstetrician or gynaecologist currently working for Hywel Dda would, on average, oversee 214 births in a year, well below half that required to meet Royal College standards.

“But Mark Drakeford is wrong. His figures are 20 years out of date.

“Since the mid-1990s the Royal Colleges of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists revised their recommendations on number of births per consultant sharply downwards, to around 300. Its latest survey, in October 2013, of 203 hospital units across the UK showed an average number of births per consultant of 360.

“Withybush had 1,300 births in the last year and has five consultants. In practice this is equivalent to four, since they provide cover for each other at weekends and holidays and for study leave. Therefore, each is responsible for overseeing the births of 325 babies a year, not far short of the UK average.

“Morriston Hospital in Swansea is considerably below the norm. It has 16 consultants who between them oversee 3,300 births a year, an average of 206.

“The truth is that obstetricians or gynaecologists currently working for Hywel Dda are overseeing more births than the Royal Colleges recommend and are not that far below the UK average.

“People across Pembrokeshire will be aghast to learn that maternity services face being seriously downgraded on the basis of incorrect figures.

“I am urging the Minister to look again at these ill-considered plans and to listen to the very real concerns of people across southwest Wales, where the brunt of his cutbacks seem destined to fall.”

Fears that babies and mothers will die on the journey to Carmarthen if plans went ahead have been voiced by many residents and campaigners since the health board began its work to revise services in its three counties.

A spokesman for the Welsh Government said: "The minister’s references in that debate were based on Health Board calculations, using the most up-to-date guidance available at the time. That guidance has now altered, but only in December 2013.

"The scrutiny panel will have all the latest evidence and guidance to hand as they form their recommendations.”

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