Llangollen Hospital – Community vs Centralized

The Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board have announced that they will close Llangollen Hospital over the winter months.

Local AM Karen Sinclair (Labour) has quite rightly expressed her concern at the proposal.

Before I go any further, don’t forget that it was Labour that planned to shut down a whole host of community hospitals back in 2006, until Plaid Cymru insisted that the hospital closures programme be halted as part of the One Wales Agreement to form a stable Government after the 2007 elections. I don’t doubt Ms Sinclair’s sincerity with regards to Llangollen Hospital, after all she lives in the town, but it seems to me that a Labour are suffering from a case of the LibDemitis – that of saying one thing in one place and the polar opposite somewhere else.

I must say that the timing of the seasonal closure is peculiar. I would assume that the services provided by a community hospital was most needed during these cold winter months. Let’s just hope that the snow and ice create to much havoc on the roads to Wrexham and Chirk! 

I have some sympathy with the health board on the one hand. They have to cut back on spending, and every proposal is being opposed. But they are going about it the wrong way. 

This is what the health Minister said when announcing the funding settlement: 

“By protecting funding for front-line hospital and community health services, we will ensure that the most vulnerable members of society will continue to have access to the services they need, when they need them.” 

Therefore the Health Board’s decision to close Llangollen Hospital over the winter period (at least) and the threatened closure of Wrexham Maelor’s Children Services is not in keeping with the spirit of the settlement. 

A local hospital such as Llangollen’s provides an invaluable service – easily accessible, ease of mind, less queuing and waiting at larger hospitals, a more personal service, less travelling, patients closer to their communities, less pressure on the ambulance service. The more local the health service the more accessible it is, especially to the most vulnerable and the less well-off. 

With the exception of capital costs, I fail to see how they hope to save money by closing the hospital. The people who use the hospital need medical assistance. Whether it be at Llangollen, Chirk or Wrexham that service has to be paid for. Unless of course they intend cutting back on staffing as well, which would save on revenue costs. This however would be self-defeating.

 Unfortunately the threat to Llangollen hospital lies in the false belief that in order to cut costs and improve services everything must be centralized. This all-pervading belief has decimated Welsh communities over the decades and should be challenged. 

Centralizing services on paper makes sense. The majority seem to have easy access to various transport providers; the majority of the people in a given geographical area live within easy reach; all of this ‘majority based’ service delivery model results in better statistics. The bold statistics then stack up on paper in support of centralization. 

But this paper exercise fails to take account of an individual’s and a community’s needs, and ignores those on the margins who are unsurprisingly those most in need of these services – the most vulnerable in society.  

Before going about any sort of restructuring the authorities must look at the actual need of those that use and are likely to use the services – not a paper exercise, but an exercise in community dialogue, ensuring that those on the margins get a chance to contribute and are listened too. 

I refuse to believe that we live in an individualist society. Having collected hundreds of names on a petition against the closure and spoke to numerous people on the streets of Llangollen over the weekend I was glad to see that the people of the town share these altruistic views and value their community and neighbours dearly. 

Let’s hope that the Health Board also value our communities and decide to maintain the current services at Llangollen.