No cuts at Royal Glamorgan hospital!

Health campaigners call for a united campaign against the downgrading of services

Marching against the South wales Programme

People in Rhondda Cynon Taff have reacted with anger and alarm at the threat from the Welsh government to close a fully functioning A&E at Royal Glamorgan hospital near Pontypridd.

The cuts at the Royal Glamorgan is part of the South Wales Programme proposed by the Welsh government this week to centralise core hospital services in South Wales in just five hospitals: Morriston hospital in Swansea, Princess of Wales in Bridgend, UHW in Cardiff, Prince Charles in Merthyr and a new hospital near Cwmbran.

Rhondda Cynon Taff has one of the highest levels of health needs in the UK. People in the Rhondda have already lost a doctor-led service at Llwynypia hospital. Now they will be expected to travel long distances to Merthyr, Cardiff or Bridgend in emergencies. And the ambulance service cannot cope with the distances it is already having to cover.

The downgrading of the A&E at the Royal Glamorgan together with the loss of neo-natal services, consultant-led maternity and in-patient children’s services will seriously restrict the access of people in Rhondda Cynon Taff to healthcare.

The South Wales Programme has been put out to public consultation ending on July 19 and various other 'options' for centralising the services are offered as alternatives, but the downgrading of Royal Glamorgan is the preferred option. All options should be rejected because they all mean cuts.

The Welsh government has cut funding to the NHS by at least £200 million this year, a whopping £600 million+ so far since the cuts began. In reality the different options really come down to a choice between downgrading Royal Glamorgan or downgrading the Princess of Wales in Bridgend. The Welsh Labour government is cynically trying to play off hospital v hospital, borough v borough, working class v working class in the hope that by dividing them they can force the programme through.

And the Labour Party representatives are more than happy to play that game. Labour Assembly Members (AMs) and MPs have trotted out in Pontypridd and the Rhondda to oppose the downgrading of Royal Glamorgan while supporting the South Wales Programme overall.

As the ITV interviewer put it to Mick Antoniw, AM for Pontypridd "you are just NIMBYs really aren't you?". NIMBY is the acronym for "Not In My Back Yard". It would be more accurate to describe Antoniw and his partner in crime Leighton Andrews as HIMBYs – they want a "Hospital In My Back Yard" instead of someone else's. Incredibly, Leighton Andrew is a prominent member of the same cabinet that is putting forward the plan to close core services at Royal Glamorgan.

The danger is that hospital campaigners in Rhondda Cynon Taff and Bridgend will be drawn into a war against each other. The Royal Glamorgan would be likely to lose out because the First Minister, Carwyn Jones, is the Assembly Member for Bridgend.

And what will be the situation for the 'victorious' hospital? Thousands more patients from outside the area pouring into its A&E. All the A&Es are at breaking point with six hour waiting times common. There can be no winners in the war between hospitals – the NHS will be loser.

The only way to save services at the Royal Glamorgan is to unite health campaigners across South Wales against the whole South Wales Programme. Health campaigns from Llanelli, Swansea, Bridgend, Rhondda Cynon Taff, Caerphilly and Cardiff can unite under the banner Defend Our NHS. Under the plan Llanelli, Neath-Port Talbot, the Rhondda, Cynon Valley, Caerphilly and Torfaen all permanently lose their doctor-led A&E and the whole of Rhondda Cynon Taff would lose its core services as well. A campaign against the whole programme can unite all these areas – unity really IS strength.

Unfortunately trade union leaders in Wales are so close to the Labour leadership that they prefer to bury their heads in the sand and pretend there are no significant cuts in Wales. On the same day that the South Wales Programme was announced the Wales TUC conference dominated by trade union bureaucrats rejected a call by Swansea Trades council to oppose the Programme. The convener of UNISON Cymru, ‘representing’ the majority of the tens of thousands of health workers in Wales, opposed the motion, uttering the immortal words "if we pass this motion we will have to oppose all NHS cuts in Wales"!

But trade union members across South Wales will support the campaign to defend any hospital. Welsh trade unionists were at the forefront of the struggle for the NHS and we will not surrender it easily.

Socialist Party members will be at the very forefront of this campaign: a united campaign to defend the NHS in Wales. But time is short. We must not let the Labour leaders divide our communities against each other.

Dave Reid

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