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Monday, November 29, 2004

Betrayal puts Swansea's health services at threat

The decision by the Health Minister to close down paediatric neurosurgery at Swansea's Morriston Hospital and centralise the service in Cardiff has caused huge consternation locally. I think that the clinical case for a centralised service has been made but the choice of location is not just bizarre but threatens the future of other specialist health services in Swansea.

The Minister and Health Commission Wales argue that the present service is not safe as it does not deal with a sufficient number of operations. Yet they are proposing that an emergency service remains at Morriston with even fewer procedures to sustain it safely. This appears to many to be a sop that will soon disappear along with the mainstream service.

The biggest question mark hangs over the appropriateness of Cardiff as the venue for the new centralised service. Not only is Cardiff closer to the bigger Bristol operation and therefore more vulnberable to takeover, but geographically Morriston is more central to the target population and more accessible. Yet the Health Commission Wales review did not consider that option in any detail.

Now there is a threat to the future of Morriston Hospitals Burns' unit. Next month a review will decide whether the Wales Burns Centre in Swansea becomes a centre of excellence or is downgraded. As the Western Mail reports, if the decision goes against Swansea and we are not awarded centre of excellence status, then patients from South Wales may have to be transferred out of Wales to the nearest centre with an available bed. This might be Bristol but it is more likely to be one of the other major English cities.

The decision of the Health Minister and those local Labour AMs who supported her makes that outcome more likely. It seems that their agenda is to turn Wales into a nation of District General Hospitals with patients facing long journeys to English cities for more specialist treatment. The review of the Burns service will the first test as to whether that nightmare is at all likely. Let us hope that for once those conducting the review put the future of the Welsh NHS and the interests of patients first and classify Morriston as the centre of excellence it already is.

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