Maternity services set to return to Neath Port Talbot after two-year pause
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
Maternity services will resume in Neath Port Talbot from early next year following a £750,000 investment.
Maternity resources have been focused on Swansea’s Singleton Hospital for the last two years because there haven’t been enough staff to maintain the Neath Port Talbot Hospital birthing centre or the region’s home birth service.
A report by Swansea Bay University Health Board’s interim chief executive, Dr Richard Evans, confirmed both services would start resuming in October and be fully reopened by early 2024.
They had stopped, temporarily, in July 2021.
Health board members were told at a meeting on 28 September that 14 maternity care assistants, who will support midwives, have been recruited and that 21 midwives would be starting in October.
Gareth Howells, executive director of nursing, said the wider shortage of midwives would still pose a challenge. There have also been discussions about potential changes to community midwife services.
This positive development, however, was tempered by news of an inspection of maternity services by Healthcare Inspectorate Wales (HIW).
Health board vice-chairman Steve Spill said HIW’s report hadn’t been published yet, but that the inspectorate had sought “immediate assurances” in respect of eight different areas. Mr Spill said the health board had submitted an immediate improvement plan to HIW, with supporting information, and was awaiting feedback.
Board members also received updates about unscheduled and planned care. They heard that despite significant unscheduled care pressures – due to the frailty of many patients and problems discharging medically fit ones – Swansea Bay was the best-performing health board in Wales currently in terms of emergency treatment indicators. This follows work to prioritise Morriston Hospital as the centre for emergency care and build extra capacity in the system.
There have also been waiting lists reductions in planned care in cases where patients have been waiting more than a year for treatment. Cuts to shorter-term waiting lists hit a block in August and crept upwards.
Three new operating theatres at Neath Port Talbot Hospital will cut orthopaedic waiting lists, but how quickly they reach their combined 3,000 operations per year capacity depends on staff recruitment.
The health board told the Local Democracy Reporting Service last month that operations had got under way in one of the theatres, that the second one would open in early September, and that the third was expected to open in late October.
Recruiting anaesthetists, it said, was challenging. Speaking at the health board meeting, deputy chief operating officer Craige Wilson said the second theatre would open in October, with the target date for the third one January 2024.
Mr Wilson said an “in-sourcing” company had been appointed which may potentially bring in staff to enable the health board to “fully utilise” the three theatres.
On cancer care, figures for July showed that 49% of patients suspected of having cancer in Swansea Bay began treatment within 62 days – the target is 75%. The figure hovered between 43% and 59% in the preceding 12 months. Dr Evans’s report said: “We have not been doing as well as we would like, far from it.”
Three particular areas of cancer treatment time concern are gynaecological, colo-rectal and urology. Mr Wilson said there were a range of reasons for this.
The health board, he said, has submitted new cancer “trajectories and action plans” to the Welsh Government, and that performance regarding cancer was discussed at monthly meetings.
Dr Evans’s report also encouraged staff to have flu and Covid boost vaccinations as soon as possible. “It is possible that by the start to middle of October 2023 that there will be a new Covid wave,” it said.
He took over as interim chief executive from the departing Mark Hackett but was unable to attend the September 28 meeting.
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