08/20/2022

Wales News Online

Local & National News for Wales

A DECISION to temporarily close the home birth service in Swansea Bay again was “the last thing we wanted to do”, a health leader said.

Mark Hackett, chief executive of Swansea Bay University Health Board, said staff sickness linked to Covid and a shortfall in recruitment meant the home birth service had had to close for three months.

The “alongside” midwifery unit at Singleton Hospital continues to operate but the “free-standing” midwifery unit in Neath Port Talbot Hospital remains suspended.

Speaking at a health board meeting on July 28, Mr Hackett said he expected the staffing issues to be resolved between September and December.

“The decision not to continue with home births, it’s the last thing we wanted to do,” he said. “We are committed to getting that service back up and running as soon as possible alongside the free-standing unit in Neath Port Talbot. I understand for the mothers concerned the devastating impacts this has on their expectation.”

The home birth service had previously been suspended before resuming in February this year. It paused again on July 7 for three months due to staff sickness, maternity leave and an absence in key leadership and governance roles.

Mr Hackett’s report to the board said 13 midwives had been appointed following recruitment campaigns but that 15 vacancies remained, of which eight were due to be filled by graduates by the end of the year. The report said managers will consider a “sustainable solution” for staffing in September.

His wide-ranging report said plans for a £45 million to £50 million adult thoracic surgical centre at Swansea’s Morriston Hospital had been endorsed by Minister for Health and Social Services Eluned Morgan. It will treat patients with lung cancer and other chest conditions requiring surgery from five health board areas, and be the third largest such centre in the UK.

Mr Hackett told colleagues it would be a “world-class” facility which “will change fundamentally the way lung cancer is dealt with in Wales”.

His report also cited ongoing hospital, community and primary care, and mental health service pressures. The main causes were the inability to move people out of hospital quickly enough, and Covid disruption to the patient flow.

The report said that for 10 hours on July 12 a “business continuity incident” was declared at Morriston Hospital for quality and safety reasons, during which support was sought from neighbouring health boards and emergency patients directed elsewhere. Mr Hackett’s report said he was confident that performance would recover when the current Covid wave passed, thanks to interventions already in place.

Another area of focus was in meeting two Wales-wide targets: that by the end of December patients don’t wait more than 52 weeks for a new outpatient appointment, and eliminating 104-week waits for treat in most specialities by the end of March 23. Figures for May showed the health board had 12,670 patients waiting more 104 weeks.

The report said operating theatre productivity was improving in Neath Port Talbot Hospital and that an outpatient suite had opened in Ward G. Additional day surgery for cataracts at Swansea’s Singleton Hospital, meanwhile, has got under way, and enhanced operating capacity elsewhere at the two hospitals will reduce the strain on Morriston Hospital.

Worryingly, Covid-related hospitalisations soared 12-fold in June in Swansea Bay, including an increasing number of critical cases. While numbers seemed to be steady now, said the report, the spike had required the resumption of mask-wearing for staff, patients and visitors and some visiting restrictions.

The overall cancer treatment picture showed some improvements, particularly in reducing the number of patients waiting more than 104 days for treatment from nearly 700 to 370. But the report warned that cancer referrals were 15% higher than before the pandemic as people were presenting with symptoms later than in previous times and needing more complex surgery or extensive chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

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