The First Minister for Wales has overturned a decision to transfer some specialist neonatal care in the north of the country across the border to England.
Carwyn Jones’s intervention in the matter increases the chances that most of the region’s most premature babies will remain in Wales.
However, those needing the highest level of care may still have to go to Arrowe Park hospital on the Wirral.
The Welsh Labour leader waded into the matter after Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board earlier this year announced plans to move specialist intensive care for babies across the border.
Mr Jones told AMs in the Senedd he agreed with an independent review’s suggestions that intensive care for babies needed to be centralised at one north Wales site.
He said: “I want to see the best services possible available to the people of Wales and I anticipate this review and subsequent actions will lead to the delivery of strong, sustainable services.”
At present, two hospitals in north Wales provide specialist - also known as “level three” - neonatal care - Glan Clwyd hospital in Bodelwyddan and Wrexham’s Maelor hospital.
But protests were sparked when the local health board said it wanted to send all level three cases across to Arrowe Park.
Campaigners labelled the proposals a backward step and said it would be unfair for affected parents having to travel long distances between homes and families in north Wales.
Ministers then launched a review of the matter - which was to be undertaken by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) - and to see whether it was possible to keep high-level baby care at at least one north Wales hospital.
That study has recommended continuing to send the most premature babies to Arrowe Park, arguing that a Welsh solution which meets national standards could not be developed within 10 years.
But the key change is the recommendation for neonatal intensive care to be centralised in one north Wales hospital and five extra consultants posts.
However, the RCPCH warned there had to be “significant investment” made - otherwise there would be no option but for more babies to go across the border.
Wales’s shadow health minister Darren Millar said the First Minister’s remarks and report went some way to ending the “uncertainty” for people in north Wales.
He added: “But it is now crucially important that each of its recommendations is implemented swiftly - and in full.
“A cross-party campaign long warned that axing long-term neonatal care in the region was dangerous - a view supported by health professionals and clinicians. Today this campaign has been vindicated.
“Communities have been left in limbo for far too long and a site for a new centralised centre for neonatal care must now be identified as soon as possible.”
But nationalists Plaid Cymru were less than diplomatic with their response.
North Wales AM Llyr Gruffydd said: “The Labour government’s plans mean that our most vulnerable babies will be sent to the NHS in England that the First Minister has been so critical of.
“Plaid Cymru has always made the case for the retention of these life-saving services in north Wales, and for north Wales to maintain this level of expertise.
“Unfortunately the Welsh government has dragged its feet and failed to act on the warnings that the service has become unsustainable, and as a result the people of north Wales have lost this important service.”
Health officials at the health board said they welcomed the review.
In a statement, it said: “We are pleased that the decisions taken by the board to make sure that the most premature and seriously ill babies from north Wales are cared for by a specialist neonatal team have been supported.
“The report is an important step forward and will help to ensure that we can continue to deliver most of the neonatal services locally.
“We look forward to working with the independent panel to consider where these services will be located in the future.”
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