PLAID Cymru have slammed proposed transport arrangements for patients and staff following the transfer of acute medical services from Neath Port Talbot Hospital as “an insult to the intelligence of the people of Neath and Port Talbot”.
ABM University Health Board wants to transfer post-acute medical patients to Neath Port Talbot Hospital after their initial treatment at Singleton or Morriston Hospital in Swansea, or the Princess of Wales Hospital in Bridgend, and has been in talks with the Welsh Ambulance Service to agree the best way to do this.
It is hoped an agreement will be reached by the end of this week to ensure the new system is in place before September 3, when the transfer is scheduled to take place.
One option being looked at is a bespoke transport service, based at Neath Port Talbot Hospital, which would be responsible for transferring medical patients between sites and also patients who are being discharged home.
Taxis may be provided for staff who have difficulty reaching their new place of work.
But Plaid spokeswoman Carolyn Edwards said: “The trust are now trying desperately to get out of the mess that the removal of these emergency medical services is causing.
“The bespoke transport and taxi services will be extremely expensive to run – but what about the difficulties facing patients, relatives and staff who live at great distances from the Swansea and Bridgend hospitals, elderly relatives who may not drive, other relatives who may not have access to their own transport?
“These hospitals are extremely difficult and expensive to access by public transport,” she added.
“Patients may need several days of treatment before being transferred back to Neath Port Talbot, again causing transport difficulties for those relatives already mentioned.
“I am extremely concerned about those patients deemed well enough to be transferred back to Neath Port Talbot. What happens to them if their acute condition re-occurs while convalescing in Neath Port Talbot Hospital?
“We need to be asking the Trust how safe will the medical cover be in those instances.
“With the transfer of emergency medical services and other services, it seems the people of Neath Port Talbot will end up with a convalescent home and very little else. The residents of Neath Port Talbot deserve better.”
The urgent changes to the acute medical service at Neath Port Talbot Hospital have been brought about because of a UK-wide shortage of some doctors, which led to warnings by ABMU consultants that the service would be unsafe.
ABMU’s chief operating officer Alex Howells said: “Communicating these changes to patients and the general public is crucial.
“Over the next couple of weeks we will be developing key messages and deciding how best to share them as widely as possible.
“We will do our best to inform people about how to access the right services at the right place as they need them.
“We would like to thank everyone including patients, staff, the Welsh Ambulance Service, and our partners and other stakeholders for their understanding and co-operation as we move through these urgent changes.
“We will continue to share regular information updates over the next few weeks.”
Vicky Weekes, who chairs the Friends of Neath Port Talbot Hospital, added: “I am disappointed that the hospital finds itself in this position, which is not the hospital’s doing.
“I realise it is difficult to recruit doctors, and other health trusts – such as West Wales – are in the same position.
“I appreciate the difficulties in transport for patients and staff, and I do wonder how safe our hospitals are going to be.
“But hospital services are having to be centralised not just because of the recruitment issue, but because of factors such as increased levels of litigation and potential infection control issues.”
Plaid Cymru members will be in Neath town centre with their petition to save services at the hospital on Saturday between 11am and 1pm. Residents can also sign the online petition.