Two blows to Labour's South Wales Programme

More reason to reject the Welsh government's cuts programme for the NHS

Ambulances stack up outside gridlocked A&E

Two developments in the last week undermine some of the most important arguments put forward by the Labour Welsh Government and NHS Cymru for the South Wales Programme.

First Dr Richard Lewis, secretary of the BMA in Wales, went on record in the Western Mail to challenge the accuracy of the Welsh Government's figures for vacancies for doctors in Wales.

The figures the BMA have got from the Welsh Government following a freedom of information request, seem to show that the number of jobs unfilled in Wales is lower than expected.

If this is the case then it undermines one of the main reasons put forward for centralising acute services in a smaller number of services - the lack of qualified staff. "If these figures are right, it does undermine some of the arguments for change" Dr Richard Lewis said. If as Dr Lewis suspects, the figures don't accurately reflect the situation on the ground then it would show that policy is being determined based on inaccurate or incomplete data. Or is it the case that the reason that there is a shortage of specialist doctors in Welsh hospitals is that the posts have not been filled because they have not been advertised due to cuts in funding by the Welsh government?

The second blow to the arguments for the South Wales Programme is the news that on Bank Holiday Monday, due to the high volume of patients, the A&E unit at Prince Charles Hospital in Merthyr, had to close its doors and divert patients arriving by ambulance, to the Royal Glamorgan in Llantrisant instead.

This was done for reasons of 'patient safety' - so if the South Wales Programme is implemented then patient safety will be put at risk. Because during the consultation to the South Wales Programme we were repeatedly told that it was for patient safety that doctor-led acute A&E, maternity and other services needed to be concentrated in just four or five centres in the whole of South Wales, an area with a population of over two million. The Royal Glamorgan is not one of the five acute centres in NHS Cymru's 'best fit' option. If the South Wales Programme had already been implemented in this form then it would not have been possible to divert acute cases there from the Prince Charles hospital.

Of course it makes sense to review and re-organise services to take account of needs and clinical evidence but in the context of 660 million of cuts to NHS funding in Wales in the last three years, the South Wales Programme looks like nothing more than poorly thought out and unjustifiable cuts. No wonder the Health Boards have postponed finalising their proposals.

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