A retired paediatrician says health care for women, babies and children at Withybush Hospital is on a ‘precipice of disaster’ and Pembrokeshire residents must fight to keep services in the county.
Dr Arabinda Palit came to work in the area in 1973 and was one of the key campaigners bringing paediatric and neonatal care to Withybush when health bosses wanted services based in Carmarthen.
Forty years on the drive to centralise services further east continues but Dr Palit, from Narberth, maintains that now, as in 1973, the geography of Pembrokeshire renders the idea dangerous.
“When I first joined I was appointed to be based in Carmarthen - the philosophy was Carmarthen led and Haverfordwest would be a satellite unit. People would say ‘locals all want you at Haverfordwest but that’s silly, it should be in Carmarthen’.
“But as soon as I came here it was obvious that you couldn’t do paediatrics, including babies, from Carmarthen,” Dr Palit told the Western Telegraph.
He then had to persuade the powers that be, including a visit to lobby the Welsh Office, that a unit needed to be developed in Haverfordwest.
The plan was eventually approved but Dr Palit was told the unit would not be viable and ‘when it’s in trouble don’t come to us’.
“That trouble never came,” said Dr Palit, who retired in 2002. “This is a viable unit and it has been viable.
“They changed their view because of public pressure at that time and it has been proved right medically, it has been a viable unit.
“I was the only paediatrician in those days and if I was able to do that single handed there’s no reason four or five paediatrician aren’t able to do it.
“It’s really on a precipice of disaster; once it goes it won’t come back.”
Centralising services in larger units would result in better care, Dr Palit said, but context is key and the large geographic area of Pembrokeshire complicates the situation, with many residents already having to travel significant distances to Withybush.
“The distance - that is the main argument. If the distance was not a problem nobody would deny the fact that they should set up a big unit to serve the population. There are countless number of patients coming from St Davids or Fishguard that would have died going to Carmarthen, even with a helicopter flying.
“Of course money is involved, they are just hiding behind the dogma that centralising is best, and it is best, but it’s out of context here, here it’s not best.
“Ideally things would be centralised but it won’t work here because it’s a huge area. People always talk of the quality of service here.
“It’s impossible to have best care everywhere but they should decide what is best for this geography. It’s best to have everything but if you can’t have everything you’ve got to have the minimum and that’s the minimum,” he added.
Dr Palit also championed the care currently provided by paediatrics and the special care baby unit saying it was not ‘inferior’ to anywhere else and he encouraged residents to fight to keep services in Pembrokeshire.
“It is only a done deal unless we don’t really, really fight for it.
“It’s imperative people fight if they want to see the good care for their children.
“The thing that drives people to fight for it is they know they will fail the local children if they don’t,” he said.
The next demonstration organised by SWAT (Save Withybush Action Team) is due to be held following Health Minister Mark Drakeford’s final decision on Hywel Dda’s proposals, which is expected on January 21.