MORE than 1,200 people - many of who credit Withybush Hospital with saving their life or that of a loved one - came out to protest planned cuts to services on Saturday (November 3).

Families, staff and current and former patients braved the bad weather to send a message to Hywel Dda health board: Pembrokeshire must keep its A&E department.

Demonstrators shared moving personal accounts of how the hospital has helped them, and aired concerns over the potential impact if it is downgraded, and services moved to a new site between Whitland and St Clears.

Wheelchair user Steph Webb from Fishguard has multiple health issues, and relies on A&E as part of her care plan.

“It’s a life saver for me,” she said.

“My life is a massive balancing act, between medication, doctors and hospitals.

“It literally makes me panic, the idea of it not being here, it’s so important.”

Margaret Ferrazzi from Fishguard said she ‘owed Withybush her life’.

“I was going into septic shock and was told afterwards had the ambulance taken any longer I would not be standing here today," she said.

“It’s so crucial. It’s insane to think you can remove A&E - it’s the heart of the hospital."

Mayor of Milford Haven Cllr Rose Gray was concerned that moving to a new hospital would put extra pressure on families.

She said parents without access to a car or adequate public transport were already struggling to cope with existing changes, such as the removal of overnight paediatric care from Withybush.

"It doesn’t make any sense. We’ve got this fantastic new unit here," she said.

“I do not believe the health board and I do not trust them.

“They said they wouldn’t take SCBU away until it had been replaced and it’s still not there."

Naomi Joseph from Milford Haven works with people in debt.

She said not everyone was aware there was support available to cover transport costs for low income families, and those who did often lacked the confidence to ask for it.

"When people are poorly they do not have the energy to travel or fight for help," she said.

"The decision makers are not in touch with real people."

She said taxis from parts of Pembrokeshire to Glangwili could cost up to £85 - a figure far out of most people's reach.

Hospital patient Adrian Thomas from Milford Haven came outside in his dressing gown to take part in the protest.

He suffers from epileptic seizures, and has sustained several injuries during falls.

Mr Thomas said he did not know what he would do without Withybush.

Sally Edwards from Pembroke Dock was joined by her young sons Morgan and Iwan for the protest.

“We used A&E last year when Morgan was hit by a surf board on Broadhaven South beach,” said Sally.

“It took us 40 minutes to get to A&E.

“You have to wonder who makes these decisions.

“Do they not have elderly parents or children?”

Addressing the crowd, Preseli-Pembrokeshire MP Stephen Crabb: “When 40,000 people sign a petition to the health board, they mean it.

“Most of us are here because Withybush is part of our lives, it’s part of our community.”

He added later: “The campaign is not over.

“We will keep fighting to defend our A&E.”

Speaking ahead of the protest, Hywel Dda health board chief executive Steve Moore said: “We’re aware that some people are anxious about changes to healthcare provision but our doctors and other clinicians have led this work and we believe this is our best chance to deal with the fragility of our NHS and to provide the population with safe, effective care that meets their needs.

“We want to make it clear that our plans are not to move services from Withybush to Glangwili hospital but to provide a new hospital in a more equitable position somewhere between Narberth and St Clears.”

"This will bring many services closer to people in Pembrokeshire than they are now, including our main intensive care unit, overnight children’s (paediatric) services and high risk births.

"This will not happen overnight and we are committed to working with our communities and our partners to demonstrate and test what additional provision can be made in areas furthest from the new hospital, particularly for time-sensitive emergency conditions.

“We also wish to reassure people that should our plans for a new hospital be unsuccessful, we would need to reconsider how we could meet our challenges and this would mean coming back to our communities to engage with them."