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Withybush baby unit future in doubt

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CONSERVATIVE politicians have reacted angrily to the news that Mark Drakeford, Minister for Health in the Welsh Labour Government, has endorsed the “underlying model” set out in a health review that looks certain to result in the closure of the Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU) in Withybush Hospital.

The Scrutiny Panel Report on service change proposals to neonatal services across three hospitals, which looks likely to be fully endorsed by the Welsh Government, recommends that ‘the provision of neonatal special care facilities across all Hywel Dda hospitals is neither safe nor sustainable, given the low volume of patient throughput’.

Just this week, speaking with the BBC, Labour leader Ed Milliband, praised the Welsh Government’s handling of the NHS, stating that they were doing an ‘excellent job’ and blaming ‘cuts’ on Westminster. The Labour run Welsh Government has chosen, controversially, not to protect the health element of its budget, in contrast to the UK government’s policy in England. The health element of the Welsh Government’s budget amounts to 40% of its overall expenditure, as opposed to 18% in the UK overall.

Stephen Crabb, MP for Preseli Pembrokeshire, which is the constituency in which the Withybush hospital resides, commented on the Labour decision to adopt the Scrutiny Panel Report, saying,

“I was very disappointed by the Minister’s statement. Although no firm plans were confirmed, it is clear that the Welsh Government will be centralising specialist baby care services at one site in the Hywel Dda region. This leaves SCBU in Withybush Hospital in the same uncertain position. Although the Minister explained that he would make a final decision after Christmas, having asked for more information, this announcement will be unsettling for local people. As a longstanding campaigner to save this vital service for our community, I remain anxious that the decision has effectively been taken to close the unit at Withybush. I hope that the further information he receives will convince the Minister not to push forward with such a closure.”

The Assembly Welsh Conservative Group claim that Carwyn Jones’s Labour Government will cut the Welsh NHS budget by over £800 million, in real terms, over five years, which they say equates to £5 a second.

However, Joyce Watson, Labour AM for Mid and West Wales, denied that a cost cutting exercise was to blame for the imminent closure of the SCBU. Speaking with The Herald she said that, “This is not about cost; it is about sustainable care for now and the future.”

In a statement released by her office she stated that, “We want the best for patients in Wales. Clearly what we want is an improvement on the present state of affairs. Those of us who have fought for the maintenance of the existing provision at these hospitals are not stick-in-the-muds. If what is proposed is better, we’ll have it”.

She told The Herald that she had sought assurances from the Minister that Withybush would be able to deal with emergency births where the mother/child needed immediate care, which he had confirmed to be the case. When pressed on what that would mean if the current SCBU were to be closed she said that, “A stabilisation unit will remain in Withybush”, that would, “provide adequate care in case of an emergency”.

The Conservative Shadow Minister for Health, Darren Millar, did not share the Labour AM’s optimism, saying, “Labour has confirmed more hospital downgrading in Wales, despite previous assurances that this would not happen”

Preselli Pembrokeshire AM, Paul Davies, said, “It seems it’s clear that calls to save Withybush Hospital’s SCBU have fallen on deaf ears. This Labour Government still appears to advocate a closure that many believe would be both dangerous and unsafe. There are deep concerns surrounding the potential axing of this unit; not least the effect it will have on an already strained ambulance service, the lack of suitable transport services within our communities, and the knock-on effect on other services at the hospital”.

Angela Burns, AM for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire issued a statement to The Herald saying, “The Minister must remember the recommendation made by the CYP (Children and Young People) Committee into Neonatal Care that spoke of the need to ensure adequate transportation systems if everything is to be dragged eastwards. We have a fairly poor road network in Pembrokeshire with a great many single carriageways, an overstretched ambulance service, and it is not advised that premature babies go anywhere by helicopter. My overall view is that this is a long kick into the deep grass but what it leads to is more worry and uncertainty for the public, for staff, for recruitment and for doctors and nurses thinking of training in Hywel Dda”.

The Herald invited further comment from local Councillor and leader of the County Council’s Labour Group, Paul Miller. He said he was unable to comment and directed all enquiries to Joyce Watson or the Labour Health Minister.

Pembrokeshire residents must now wait to see if there is any hope of a change of heart by the Welsh Government before a final decision is made on the future of the Special Care Baby Unit at Withybush.

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Deal not yet finalised to scrap Cleddau Bridge tolls

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THE DEAL to scrap tolls for crossing the Cleddau Bridge has not yet been finalised, as councillors heard the latest Welsh Government offer did not satisfy concerns about maintenance costs.
Cars are currently charged 75p each way to cross the A477 bridge, which opened in 1975, linking Pembroke Dock with Burton Ferry. Horses and motorbikes are charged 35p, whilst vehicles weighing more than two tonnes and coaches with more than 15 seats must pay £1.50 to cross. On October 31, Pembrokeshire County Council announced an in-principal agreement has been reached with Welsh Government to abolish the Cleddau Bridge tolls from April 2019. Earlier this month, the Welsh Government said that payments of £3 million a year to cover maintenance costs and lost income from the tolls had been offered to Pembrokeshire County Council.
The Authority’s Cabinet Member for Economic Development, Leisure, Culture and Tourism, Councillor Paul Miller, told members at a full council meeting last Thursday (Dec 13): “This is a negotiation and while we are very close, I believe, to reaching agreement with Welsh Government but we are not yet there.”
Cllr Miller also answered Conservative councillor Rob Summons, that should they face a “financial package that does not future proof the bridge maintenance and ongoing costs, PCC will continue to collect tolls”.
The Government has previously said that it would not authorise the stretch of the A477 becoming a trunk road, which would make the Government responsible for maintenance. The council ultimately agreed to give the cabinet and senior officers the power to finalise a deal which satisfies future maintenance and replacement needs.

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Injured seal is 50th rescued this year by RSPCA

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A SEAL with a severe eye injury is the 50th rescued by the RSPCA in the south west and west Wales region this season.

RSPCA Cymru was alerted after the lethargic seal was spotted struggling to move on Aberystwyth beach on Saturday (Dec 8).

The seal was stranded on a busy area of the beach, and was safely moved by experienced seal handlers before being collected by the RSPCA.

Fortunately, the seal is responding well to treatment and is currently being cared for at RSPCA West Hatch Wildlife Centre in Taunton.

The seal’s eye is not missing as first thought – but the eyeball has sunken very far back into the eye socket. Her body condition is thin, and she has a severe mouth infection.

She has been nicknamed Platypus – after a drive at the centre to name all incoming seals after non-native species of mammals.

Ellie West, RSPCA animal collection officer, said: “This poor, sweet-natured seal was in a bad way, with a nasty, damaged eye. Fortunately, she is now in our care and we hope will be safely returned to the wild in the future.

“It is unusual to deal with wildlife where we are able to remove an eye and then release them to the wild – but this is possible; and we do have evidence that seals can do well even when this is the case.

“Our team in Taunton will work hard to rehabilitate Platypus and hopefully secure another happy ending for the RSPCA and wild animals in need.”

Platypus’ rescue is the latest in another “very busy seal season” for the RSPCA in south west and west Wales.

ACO West added: “Platypus marks the fiftieth seal to be rescued by us in the South West and West of Wales this season.

“Last season, Ophelia and Brian storms meant we had to rescue more than 100 – and though the number is likely to be a little lower this time around; it has still been another very busy seal season and a huge test for our officers in this part of the UK.

“RSPCA Cymru is here to help, and we always remind anyone who sees a pup whose mother hasn’t returned within 24 hours, is on a public beach, or seems sick or injured, to contact our 24-hour emergency line on 0300 1234 999. An unhealthy seal pup looks thin – but not bony – with a visible neck, like a dog.

“It’s important the public never approach seals and keep any dogs well away and on a lead, as wild animals can have a nasty bite.”

Should you wish to help RSPCA Cymru complete rescues such as these, you can donate online.

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Capestone supplying 160,000 turkeys this Christmas

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PEMBROKESHIRE-BASED M&S supplier, Capestone, has been working around the clock to supply more than 160,000 turkeys and turkey crowns to M&S stores across the nation this Christmas.

Run by fifth-generation farmer Justin Scale, Capestone has been supplying M&S for 20 years and its business growth is intrinsically linked to this relationship.

It is also the only farm in the area that offers free range and organic products, which are growing in demand. All of the farm’s 160,000 birds this year will be the Pembrokeshire Bronze – both organic and free range.

The 2,000-acre farm started out as a small-scale farm delivering just a couple of birds at a time to M&S Carmarthen. It now supplies M&S stores across the UK and, as such, has grown to a team of 230 – rising to 430 over the peak Christmas period.

The free range Pembrokeshire bronze turkeys are especially sought after, growing over a longer period of time, meaning they are naturally fatter and more succulent.

As free-range birds, they are fed on wild herbs, clover and flowers, as well as benefiting from being able to range on the grasses in and around the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.

The birds are housed in open sheds and are free to access the fields to range whenever they choose. While Christmas is a busy time for the production side of the business, January and February will see the farm busy calculating the number of new birds needed from the hatchery for 2019. June onwards is peak season for the agricultural team as they rear the turkeys ready for Christmas.

Justin said: “We’re absolutely thrilled to be celebrating twenty years working with M&S. Our relationship has grown from supplying just a couple of birds at a time to providing 160,000 turkeys and turkey crowns this Christmas. It makes us really proud to know that hundreds of thousands of M&S customers will be sitting down to enjoy one of our turkeys this Christmas day.”

Lucy Herbert, Poultry Developer at M&S, said: “The quality of Justin’s produce is testament to the relationships he has built up over the years; with M&S, our customers and the next generation of farmers. Allowed to roam free in and around the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, Justin’s turkeys are a prime example of quality, responsibly sourced Welsh produce that is enjoyed nationwide.

“At M&S this Christmas we’re championing our festive favourites and there’s no doubt that, for many, the Pembrokeshire bronze turkey will be the absolute centrepiece of Christmas dining. Here’s to the next twenty years of partnering with Justin and his family!”

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