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Plaid Cymru has today proposed a radical alternative to plans to move neonatal intensive care out of North Wales, arguing that there is a real opportunity to develop a top-class service in the region.

Plaid Cymru’s AM for North Wales Llyr Gruffydd called for an improved Special Care Baby Unit service that could not only serve the North Wales population but could also attract patients from the Shrewsbury and Chester area.

Mr Gruffydd said “The current Betsi Cadwaladr health board consultation recommends downgrading both Glan Clwyd and Wrexham Maelor’s special care baby units and moving intensive neonatal care services to Arrowe Park on the Wirral. We think this is flawed on a number of levels not least because it offers a false choice between the status quo and a potentially more dangerous option.

“Rather than accept those options, we want to propose a positive alternative – that we maintain neonatal intensive care in North Wales by building up a centre of excellence on this side of the border. Level 3 care, the highest level, is being centralised in north-west England, meaning that hospitals in Chester and Shrewsbury are only offering Level 2 care.

“For many mothers living just over the border, a Level 3 neonatal intensive care unit in North Wales could be a better option than Telford or Liverpool. More importantly, it will also mean we keep quality services in North Wales for our mothers and babies.”

He said plans were already in place to ensure that 500 mothers from Wales who currently give birth in Chester were brought back into the system and Wrexham Maelor was already seeing an increase in babies from north Powys. He added “The number of births in Wrexham is going to rise by about 20% due to this shift, which will mean a £2 million saving from the health board annually.

“What we need is a costed plan by the health board to link the unit to a research centre to attract additional funding. Trainee doctors will be attracted by the training and research facilities which, in turn, will help solve clinical recruitment problems. The research unit can be linked into medical schools using ICT and video conferencing – we just need to change the mindset from centralising to ‘can do’.”

Mr Gruffydd said that Betsi Cadwaladr management needed to be ambitious in facing their £64 million financial deficit: “The proposed downgrading and centralisation they’re planning does not, by the board’s own admission, save money. Closing community hospitals actually costs more and will place added pressure on hard-pressed local councils and their social services departments.

“To make real savings they need to reduce the numbers of senior managers and spin doctors and increase the number of real doctors and also look at what’s happening in England. Health trusts there are running into real difficulties because they’re tied into expensive Public Finance Initiative contracts – if we continue to move services to those hospitals we’re going to see the Welsh NHS paying through the nose for private health firms. So let’s improve our local neonatal services rather then downgrading it.”

(Pictured at top – Brian Valentine, Ruth Drake, Llyr Huws Gruffydd (AM), Dr Eamonn Jessup at a public meeting last month on the issue – report here. ).