Last night in Penparcau Aberystwyth, 547 people squeezed into both Neuadd Coffa and St. Anne’s Parish Hall across the road to show their support for Bronglais Hospital and to oppose the proposals being put forward by the Hywel Dda Health Board in respect of health services within the area. The meeting was superbly organised by Aberystwyth Town Council and knowing the strength of feeling and the likely high turnout, a video link was set up to relay proceedings from one hall to another.
As the numbers swelled in Neuadd Coffa, the doors were opened up so that those who were standing outside could also hear what was going on. It was biting cold, but no-one seemed to notice. People came from Dolgellau, Tywyn, Corris, Machynlleth, Aberaeron, Tregaron, Llanidloes and Llangurig in a display of solidarity for their nearest District General Hospital – Ysbyty Bronglais and its staff.
Whilst they had been invited to attend, conspicuous by their absence were representatives of the Hywel Dda Health Board.
ABER* Group member, Jack Evershed gave a very clear and precise presentation about what the proposed changes would mean for the hospital and for health services in our communities - a presentation which contrasted markedly with the vacuous engagement document: Your Health Your Future which has been put out by Hywel Dda in an attempt to elicit public opinion about their proposals.
As has been said before, removal of colo-rectal surgery from the hospital means effective removal of skilled abdominal surgery. This in turn leads to a diminishing of A & E because A & E cannot be properly supported without skilled abdominal surgery. In a medical emergency, this impacts on people’s survival chances and also upon the ‘Golden Hour’ - so vital for anyone living in any of the areas mentioned above.
We in Ceredigion, have been asked to comment on Hywel Dda’s proposals. Proposals which have not been properly costed or thought through – plans which are so scanty in their detail that they are an insult to the intelligence of the people of Ceredigion, South Gwynedd and Western Powys. What also needs to be said here is that the people of South Gwynedd and Western Powys, (who actually make up approx. 30% - 40% of the service users of Bronglais), have not even been consulted about these proposals because they do not live within the boundaries of the Hywel Dda area.
Hywel Dda tell us that more care in the community is needed and more health care at home to prevent ‘bed-blocking’, but they give no indication of resources involved in improving social care and medical care in the home, or any real detail of how this will happen.
Last summer my Mum was admitted to Meurig Ward in Bronglais as an advanced cancer patient suffering with edema. Following treatment, we were desperate to get her home. Mum knew the seriousness of her illness and she had made it clear to my Dad and I that she wanted to spend whatever time she might have left with both of us in her own surroundings. But she could not be released from hospital because there were no carers available to look after her. I said that I would care for her myself, but the medical staff were concerned that I would just not be able to manage alone and that without an appropriate timetable of care, she would end up being re-admitted to hospital, which in her condition, was too distressing to contemplate.
The truth is that Ceredigion Social Services, (knowing how strapped they were for resources and how short they were of carers), would have been only too happy to let me take on the role of a single-handed carer, but the medical staff at Bronglais were adamant that it would be unsafe for me to do so, and they were right.
The result was that because adequate care resources were not available, Mum ended up staying on Meurig Ward for six weeks longer than was necessary. She was not alone. It was my experience that 75% of all patients who were in that four-bed unit on that ward were in exactly the same position – with one elderly lady spending a record 12 weeks there.
I have no complaints at all about Meurig Ward and the quality of nursing and medical care was exceptional and if Mum was still here, she would say so too. In the end, thanks to the wonderful Beacon of Hope organisation, we were able to bring Mum home for the last twelve days of her life. But in these straitened circumstances of not having enough carers available, no patient, family, doctor or nurse should have to ‘do battle’ every day to see whether a care package can be put together to release a patient. It is unbelievably cruel and unfair.
For what happened to be the last few weeks of her life, my Mum felt anxious and guilty because of the pressures and stress involved in trying to secure a care package. Despite our best efforts to convince her otherwise, at this most precious time, added to all of her burden, I know that she felt guilty and fearful about how we were going to cope. And for us, it was simply awful; every day my Dad I would visit her and every day we would manage to hold it together until we got to the car park, when we would both break down because powerless to help her, we thought we were letting her down at the very the time when she needed us most. Speaking to other relatives of patients on the ward, it was clear that they and their loved ones were all experiencing exactly the same traumatic emotions and no-one should ever have to go through this.
So when Hywel Dda talk about introducing Virtual Wards as part of their care at home concept without offering any costs or detailed plan forming up part of the equation, it makes me very angry indeed. Never mind ‘virtual’………. Hywel Dda need to get a handle on what happens in the real world.
How inept. How incompetent. Why is this Board still employed when they are clearly not fit for purpose?
Just like me, I know that everyone who came to Penparcau last night had their own personal story to tell about why Bronglais is so important to them and the people they love – such experiences show us very clearly that the changes which are planned by Hywel Dda will only ever result in an unsafe and a dangerous health service for most of the people of Mid Wales.
Whilst Hywel Dda’s plans are apparently clinician-led, last week’s letter to the Health Board, which was signed by 50 out 60 senior medical staff at Bronglais and proclaimed ‘no confidence’ in the Health Board, speaks volumes about what most of our caring, hard-working clinicians really think.
There can be no doubt that the Hywel Dda HB and the Welsh Government Health Minister must surely know by now that it isn’t only a group of so-called ‘rebel’ consultants who have no confidence in them or their plans, but that these thoughts and actions are echoed by the majority of us who live in this part of Mid Wales.
Fight for Bronglais? You bet your life we will.
*ABER – Achub Bronglais Emergency Rescue