'We are absolutely terrified about what is happening'
HEALTH workers have warned that patients will die because of the loss of emergency medical services at Neath Port Talbot Hospital.
They voiced their fears during an emotive public meeting called by the Unison union’s ABMU health branch.
Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board said the urgent withdrawal of emergency medicine, which took place last month, was down to problems recruiting doctors.
As a result, it said, it would not have been possible to continue running the service safely.
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But several hospital workers have said withdrawing the service has created its own risks.
One referred to an incident where a woman in her 90s turned up for an outpatient appointment at Neath Port Talbot Hospital several days after having a fall.
The consultant sent her for an X-ray and she was found to have broken her femur. As Neath Port Talbot did not have orthopaedics, an ambulance had to be called.
“We wouldn’t let her wait alone so a member of staff had to wait with her, staying even after outpatients closed at 5pm,” the worker told the meeting.
“The member of staff was still there at 9.30pm and handed her on to the night sister. She eventually went to Princess of Wales in the early hours, but didn’t get on to the ward until the following day.
“Someone is going to die.”
Other speakers echoed that sentiment. One, retired health visitor Carolyn Edwards, quoted research by Sheffield University that found the odds of survival decreased the further patients had to be taken to A&E.
She added: “The LHB are telling us they are doing this for our safety. They are taking doctors away for our safety?”
Another hospital worker said there was a shortage of staff in Neath Port Talbot, claiming they were having to take on extra work. If they refused they were told their jobs could not be guaranteed.
She said: “I used to be proud to say I worked at Neath Port Talbot Hospital. But I’m ashamed to say I work there now because of the downgrading of services over the last 2 to 3 years, which the public isn’t even aware of.
“Surgical services were taken away. If we have a bleed out of hours there is no-one to call on. There were patients transferred bleeding to Princess of Wales and Morriston.
“It’s a travesty and someone should be held to account for what has happened. But who do we go to?
“All of us in the NHS are absolutely terrified about what is happening and patients are the ones who are being let down.”
A colleague added: “Neath Port Talbot is more dangerous now than when it was a medical hospital.
“We haven’t got the staff. They are threatening staff, either do it or we cannot guarantee you’re going to have jobs. They have ripped the heart out of it.”
The meeting was addressed by Tony Beddow of the Socialist Health Association, a former chief executive of West Glamorgan Health Authority.
Mr Beddow said there was a good case for centralising some services such as trauma and complex surgery into a smaller number of hospitals.
But he added: “There is no evidence that says you have to concentrate emergency medical admissions in the same way.
“What you have to do is decide where we want these services — in the interests of patients, not doctors and nurses and managers — and then you decide how to staff it.”
Mr Beddow argued it was not good enough for ABMU to say it had not been able to find the doctors.
“If there is a temporary blip you put it on hold, you don’t close it and write it off.” He said there was a need to look at why there were problems recruiting doctors.
“I feel we can do more,” he added. “I don’t think it’s time to run up the white flag.”