THE Health Minister has approved plans to close the Special Care Baby Unit at Withybush Hospital in an announcement this afternoon.

Mark Drakeford said that following the submission of further information from Hywel Dda Health Board regarding obstetric and midwifery care the panel brought in to consider proposals still believed a the establishment of a level two unit at Glangwili is the best for patients.

Mr Drakeford said: “The panel has confirmed its advice to me in September that a level 2 Neonatal Unit is established at Glangwili Hospital in Carmarthen. The Panel has also endorsed Hywel Dda Health Board’s intention to move to midwife led units across the region.

“However, the panel has set out a number of important provisos and recommend a phased introduction of the new model. These include robust ‘safety net’ arrangements to provide midwives with skilled assistance in the event of an unexpected emergency. There must also be robust emergency transfer arrangements, and the midwife-led units must be developed according to strict guidelines.

“These changes will mean that the majority of maternity services will continue to be provided locally by their GP and hospital as they are now, and the majority of women can safely choose to have their deliveries at their local midwife led unit.

“The panel’s conclusion is that the new service model will ‘provide an improved service for Hywel Dda mothers and babies’. That is the basis on which it has secured my endorsement.”

Preseli Pembrokeshire AM Paul Davies said the announcement was a ‘bleak day for the people of Pembrokeshire’.

“The decision to close this unit will undoubtedly put lives at risk,” he added.

The main recommendations of the panel are that a level two neonatal unit, estimated to cost £12m, is established at Carmarthen, obstetric and maternity services at Bronglais and Withybush hospitals will be midwifery-led; Until the new service model is in place, consultant obstetric support will remain in place in Withybush; There should be a phased introduction, with the new service model fully implemented only when all the necessary elements – including hospital transfer arrangements for emergencies – are in place and paediatric and obstetric teams, based at Glangwili, should provide 24/7 emergency care across the entire Health Board area.

Local MP Stephen Crabb said he was 'shocked and appalled' at the Minister's decision.

"This news is a cold and bitter blow to all the people across Pembrokeshire who have fought hard to save the Special Care Baby Unit. They will rightfully feel angry and deeply disappointed that their grave concerns have been ignored by the Minister. There can be no doubt that this decision will cause huge anxiety in the community. I fear that the closure of SCBU is the start of the wholesale downgrading that Welsh Government and the Health Board has been planning all along.

"As many Pembrokeshire people know, the Welsh Government has been trying desperately to move health services from Withybush Hospital since before 2005. The Labour Ministers in Cardiff need to wake up to reality and realise that centralising these vital services will put lives at risk in our rural communities. The next step in the campaign to save SCBU is through the courts and I fully support any such action.  I will be providing any assistance I can to help overturn this decision."