The Rhondda AM has addressed hundreds of people who gathered to protest about the proposed removal of services at the Accident and Emergency department of the Royal Glamorgan Hospital.
Leanne Wood AM told protestors that the Labour Government in Wales could stop the proposals immediately if they wanted to. She also said that the South Wales Programme; the Labour government-backed centralisation of services, had been a block on recruiting consultants to the A&E department at the Llantrisant facility while its future was cast in doubt.
Addressing the crowd, Leanne said: “No one can be in any doubt about how strong we feel about this. Health is fully devolved.
“The people responsible for the strategic direction of the health service are in this building. Yes, the health board take the local decisions but the boards are appointed by the Welsh Government.
“Our health board tells us that our A&E is bordering on unsafe because not enough consultants work there. But why do consultants want to work in Cardiff or the Aneurin Bevan health board area?
“Because these A&E departments haven’t been under threat for years, that’s why. The South Wales Programme agreed back in 2014 has acted as a block on recruitment that decision has placed a ‘soon to close’ sign on the front door.”
She added: “Yesterday I asked the First Minister to give our A&E a future by committing to a 24 hr consultant led A&E
“I have called on him and his health minister to intervene – to tell the health board to abandon their two options and to change the south wales programme to give the health board at least a fighting chance of recruiting those doctors we need. It’s within their gift.
“Instead the government have submitted an amendment to the debate on emergency departments this afternoon that would take away those demand to save our A&E. I say this to the government and all other AMs and MPs that are here today as the AM of the Rhondda.
“Let me remind you the part of the UK became very wealthy on the back of the people of the Rhondda valley. Our health statistics worse in the UK we need our local health service. Save our A&E.”
The rally came less than 24 hours after Leanne pulled the Labour First Minister and the health board up on their claim that the changes were necessary because of the shortage of A&E consultants in Wales.
During First Minister’s Questions, Leanne used figures on A&E consultant recruitment at other Welsh health boards to show that filling vacancies at other hospitals is possible with political will and without a plan that condemns an A&E department to a bleak future.
She said: “A shortage of A&E consultants has been cited as the primary reason for the Cwm Taf health board proposing to cut our A&E services, and the shortage is part of a UK trend, so we're told.
“The implications of centralisation, such as increased travel times, high levels of ill health, or the overcrowding at other hospitals, seem to be secondary considerations.
“With that in mind, I want to ask you about publicly available figures showing A&E consultant numbers across the various health boards since 2013, the year before the decisions were taken as part of the south Wales programme.
“The figures show three health boards significantly increased A&E consultants between 2013 and 2018. Aneurin Bevan health board added a third more A&E consultants. Cardiff and the Vale increased their A&E consultant numbers by more than 50 per cent. Neither health board has a consultant-led A&E unit under threat.
“Does this not show that the Labour Government-backed south Wales programme was a self-fulfilling prophecy? That programme has acted as a block on recruitment and explains why both yourselves and the health board have failed to fill consultant vacancies at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital.
“Given those failures, will you now commit as First Minister and leader of this Labour Government that 24-hour consultant-led services will be maintained at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital?
“You can give that commitment and you can give our A&E a future. Will you do that now?”
In reply, First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “Well, Llywydd, what the figures quoted by Leanne Wood demonstrate is that this is a mobile workforce in a shortage profession where people who are able to be A&E consultants themselves make decisions about where they go to work.
“Nobody, neither she nor I, is in a position to direct people to take up jobs. People apply and they decide. As you have seen, people do that. That's just the nature of the way that people are recruited in a shortage profession.”
He added: “The south Wales programme to which Leanne Wood referred was a massive clinically led programme that had buy-in from health boards and clinicians right across south Wales. It was not a programme led by the Government; it was a programme led by doctors and clinicians in the health service.
“And the answer, in the position of the Royal Glamorgan Hospital, at the end is—when clinicians have had the advice they need, when they've answered the questions that they need to answer—that that is a decision that is best made by doctors and not a decision made by politicians.”
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