Ex minister in plea for A&E talks to resume
FORMER Health Minister Lesley Griffiths ordered health watchdogs and Hywel Dda Health Board to resume discussions over controversial hospital proposals just hours before she left the post.
It follows a decision by the community health council last month to use its powers to refer the board's plans — which include replacing A&E at Prince Philip Hospital with a nurse-staffed urgent care centre and the current medical admissions unit — to the Welsh Government to make a decision.
On Thursday, Mrs Griffiths sent a letter to the CHC chairman Tony Wales which said: "The guidance makes clear, LHBs and CHCs must work together to ensure safe and sustainable services are provided across the whole area.
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"Local resolution must be sought wherever possible and referral to Welsh Ministers should only be made as a last resort.
"Your submission would seem to satisfy very few of these key requirements."
In a surprise cabinet reshuffle on Thursday afternoon, Mrs Griffiths was moved from her post to take the local government portfolio — and replaced as Health Minister by Mark Drakeford.
Mr Wales said the CHC's executive board would be meeting this week to decide what to do next. He said: "We are back where we were — I think perhaps the government wants us to become the sacrificial lamb.
"I hope we don't end up in the situation we had a number of years ago in Llanelli, getting forced down that road.
"I am more than happy to sit down with the health board but it has to be a meaningful negotiation."
The CHC has now been given a new deadline of Friday, April 5 — with Mrs Griffiths also ordering discussions to be facilitated by the board of CHCs "to help ensure progress is made".
Reacting to the news, Llanelli councillor John Jenkins urged the CHC not to give in to any pressure.
He said: "This smacks of political shenanigans and bullying, and I hope the CHC will be strong enough to stand up to the Welsh Government.
"They will have the support of every man, woman and child in Llanelli."
And Tony Flatley, secretary of campaign group the Committee for the Improvement of Hospital Services (CIHS), said: "Our CHC has made a very brave decision and it's been thrown back at them.
"They are supposed to be the independent patients' voice. I would urge them to hold strong and refer it again."
Hywel Dda Health Board chairman Chris Martin welcomed Mrs Griffiths's decision.
He said: "We look forward to continuing its work with the CHC to consider any alternative solutions proposed by them that will effectively meet the needs of our patients across the Hywel Dda healthcare area."
A Welsh Government spokeswoman said: "In line with the agreed guidance on consultations on proposed service changes, any referral by a CHC must indicate alternative options which it believes will better serve patients.
"The Hywel Dda CHC referral does not propose alternatives.
"Therefore the CHC has been asked to resume its dialogue with the health board as a matter of urgency, in order to make clear which of the proposals it can support and which it judges should be referred."