RENEWED fears are escalating that there are plans to further downgrade Withybush Hospital - which would have a serious impact on children's care and the Accident and Emergency service.

Concerned staff have contacted the Western Telegraph to say they understand that overnight paediatric services at the hospital are being axed.

If this materialises, this would then have a knock-on effect on the hospital's obstetrics department and A & E and would signal the certain closure of the Special Care Baby Unit, whose future already looks bleak.

As the Western Telegraph recently reported, a special panel has given backing to a new neonatal development at Carmarthen which would see the axe fall on Withybush's SCBU.

The concerns for the loss of overnight paediatric services stems from training requirements for the speciality's junior doctors set out by the Wales Deanery.

It is understood that the number of births in Withybush may not be regarded as sufficient, with the result that no junior paediatric doctors would be appointed from April 1st.

Staff have been told that all expectant mothers due to give birth after April 1st will be booked into Glangwili Hospital.

If the developments materialise, they would be 'massive and dramatic reconfiguration of the hospital on a scale not anticipated,' said one staff member, who described the rumoured proposals as 'disastrous'.

"It seems to be the beginning of a very significant downgrading that was never anticipated."

"There needs to be openness. Staff are really worried. There are all these rumours flying around and everyone is terrified. People are looking for posts elsewhere."

Community Health Council chairman Tony Wales said: "Clinicians are saying to me that the health board is hiding behind what the Deanery is saying, and making it into a good argument.

"If they really want to preserve those services at Withybush, they could appoint middle-grade doctors who do not need those training requirements."

Mr Wales said that the concerns had escalated following a meeting of the hospital's medical services committee.

He added: "It is very likely that we are going to lose SCBU, and once you lose that, you will lose your paediatrics and obstetrics cover.

"Then we can no longer have a fully-functional Level 1 A & E department at Withybush, so that gets downgraded to nothing more than a Minor Injuries Unit.

"It's all been very conveniently played out by the health board, because that was ultimately the long-term plan to centralise services in Carmarthen."

Carmarthen west and south Pembrokeshire MP Simon Hart has now called on the health board to make its position clear as soon as possible.

"If these rumours turn out to be true, it needs to explain why it has gone way beyond the original consultation," he said.

"It seems extraordinary that for the second time in many weeks - Tenby Minor Injuries Unit being the other instance - that the health board seems to ignore local concerns and always 'knows best'.

"Confidence in its ability to be honest appears at an all-time low."

And Assembly Member Angela Burns said: "The endless speculation is incredibly damaging to Withybush hospital. We are told by the Welsh Government that it is not being downgraded, but the management are closing or moving services at a rapid rate.

"The Deanery is being unrealistic with regard to the training requirements of rural hospitals. Because we are rural it does not mean we should accept second class provision of medical services. The people of Pembrokeshire have as much right as someone in Cardiff to a comprehensive hospital service."

A spokesman from the Wales Deanery commented: "Following the dissemination in May 2012 of the Wales Deanery's Reconfiguration of Paediatrics Training in Wales Discussion document, the Wales Deanery has been working extensively with each of the Health Boards to ensure that training delivered across the Health Board meets the GMC approved training curricula.

" The Wales Deanery has regularly discussed this issue with the Health Board and appropriate hospital personnel. We are currently awaiting confirmation of Hywel Dda's plans for the delivery of Paediatrics training across the Health Board and we will then determine whether this meets the requirements as discussed."

A spokesman for the Hywel Dda Local Health Board told the Western Telegraph: "We are having discussions with our consultants, nurses and midwives that relate to service models for the future that are sustainable and meet Royal College and Deanery standards.

"We face significant challenges - too many services reliant on temporary staff, the provision of training rotas for junior doctors particularly in paediatrics and the ability to meet the necessary clinical standards. We are at significant risk of losing training posts if we cannot find solutions that meet the Deanery's requirements and services may become too fragile unless we plan for the future.

"The Board made a number of decisions in January in relation to neo-natal services, complex obstetrics and paediatrics.

"Subsequently, the neo-natal element was referred to Welsh Government and the Health Board was requested to provide further details on our models for gynaecology and obstetrics which is being addressed by this ongoing planning work.

"It is our responsibility to find the right solution for Hywel Dda and this work is vital to ensure we do so."