A North Wales AM has called on the Welsh Government to find an immediate temporary fix to the disruption for people in North Wales after the Countess of Chester Hospital ceased accepting almost all Welsh patients.
Speaking on Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine show last week, Mark Isherwood, said he was ‘deeply concerned’ about any risk to patients in the north of the country, as well as showing his frustration that the Welsh Government had ignored the warning signs ahead of this block which came into force at the start of April.
Mr Isherwood, who is the Welsh Shadow Minister for Communities and Local Government, has been in conversation this week with GPs along the border, and says signs of this situation have been brewing for several years, more-so since the end of 2018, with GPs being repeatedly warned of restraints to services at the Countess.
He also revealed he was told that despite the North Wales Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board being informed of the closure of the Countess to Welsh patients on 1st April, affected GPs were not informed until four days later.
Mr Isherwood first challenged the Welsh Government over its funding arrangement with the Countess of Chester Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in January, after warnings that delayed transfers of care for patients from Wales have gone up by 26 per cent compared to last year, whilst those involving patients from west Cheshire had fallen by 24 per cent.
He said to the show’s host Vanessa Feltz: “We need services restored immediately and then a sensible conclusion to this when disagreements between Governments and Government policies and approaches are put aside and patients are put first.”
Commenting, NHS England reiterated the long fight over funding with the Welsh Government. They said: “There is no reason why NHS hospitals in England should run up debts in respect of treating unfunded Welsh patients.”
Speaking afterwards, Mr Isherwood added: “It seems that rather than pay NHS England tariffs, the Welsh Government chooses to ‘repatriate’ health services to hospitals in North Wales, which means longer waiting lists and times, more anxiety and pain.
“The Countess of Chester Hospital was always designed to meet the needs of a cross-border population and this false economy is likely to generate higher costs for NHS Wales, with BCU Health Board left to take the blame.
“After this news broke, I was contacted by constituents who asked me to visit their local GP practice. Doctors there told me that the majority of patients have always been referred to Chester and so this has caused them a serious problem.”
North Wales GP Eamon Jessup also hit out at the disruptive nature of the “horrendous” situation, which has been exacerbated by a heel-dragging Welsh Government.
He added that the Countess is “in effect the fourth district hospital” for people North Wales, and this end of services to Welsh patients will have “a profoundly poor effect on the health care delivery that GPs are trying to provide”.
Earlier this month Welsh Government Health Secretary, Vaughan Gething, said it was “unacceptable” for the Countess of Chester hospital not to accept certain patients living in Wales.
He said: “Funding from treating patients from Wales has always been and continues to be essential to the viability of CoCH.
The Countess of Chester hospital action relates to a significant change to the structure of the tariff system and rates that determine the amounts payable to provider trusts in England for treatment of patients.
This tariff system technically does not apply to cross-border healthcare but has previously been used as the basis for payment to provide consistency.
The tariff rate changes agreed for 2019/20 by NHS England agencies include additional costs from staff pay deals that should not be chargeable to NHS Wales organisations.”
However Plaid Cymru AM, Llyr Gruffydd said the situation was “unacceptable” and called for the situation to be resolved immediately.
He said: “It strikes me that refusing treatment on the basis of ability to pay goes against the entire ethos of the NHS and must be making many doctors feel very uncomfortable.
“So why has the Welsh Government only woken up now that the Countess of Chester has refused to accept patients for Wales? This is a long-running issue and was flagged up by CoCH’s chair six months ago.
“Vaughan Gething’s statement is a masterpiece of complacency – his government is in direct charge of Betsi Cadwaladr health board and has failed to resolve this issue before CoCH pressed the nuclear button.
“I think CoCH’s decision to use patients as bargaining chips in this funding dispute is shocking but I’m equally appalled at the Welsh Government’s failure to resolve the matter in good time.”
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