Shropshire Star

NHS in Shropshire special report: Siting of emergency centre 'life or death'

Basing Shropshire's new emergency centre in Telford rather than Shrewsbury could be a matter of a life or death for patients from Oswestry and Mid Wales, some fear.

Princess Royal Hospital, Telford, left, and Royal Shrewsbury Hospital

While people living in and around Oswestry have the alternative of the A&E department at Wrexham's Maelor Hospital nearby, those in north Powys are heavily dependent on the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital and Princess Royal Hospital in Telford.

Today, the Shropshire Star continues its journey around the region. People in the north of the county yesterday spoke about their fears over the distance they have to travel to receive emergency treatment.

Welshpool: Shrewsbury A&E - 29 minutes Telford A&E - 49 minutes

Newtown: Shrewsbury A&E - 48 minutes Telford A&E - 1 hour 8 minutes

Llanwddyn: Shrewsbury A&E - 58 minutes Telford A&E - 1 hour 18 minutes

Meifod: Shrewsbury A&E - 40 minutes Telford A&E - 59 minutes

Llanymynech: Shrewsbury A&E - 25 minutes Telford A&E - 45 minutes

Oswestry: Shrewsbury A&E - 27 minutes Telford A&E - 46 minutes

Chirk: Shrewsbury A&E - 31 minutes Telford A&E - 51 minutes

Llanrhaeadr: Shrewsbury A&E - 41 minutes Telford A&E - 1 hour 2 minutes

Gobowen: Shrewsbury A&E - 28 minutes Telford A&E - 47 minutes

We will also be looking at the situation in Shrewsbury and Telford as we continue to look at Future Fit, the stalled process planning the future of NHS services in Shropshire.

A decision on where to site the one emergency centre – replacing A&E units in Shrewsbury and Telford – was delayed in October for more investigations. Health bosses say none of the options on the table adequately tackle the growing deficit – rising to £23 million next year – of Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust.

Some people in the Oswestry area fear the decision has already been made and that the new centre will be in Telford.

When Graham Breeze fell seriously ill over Christmas 2013, Shropdoc had no hesitation in calling for an ambulance to rush him from his home in Welshpool to the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital.

It was midnight on 'Mad Friday' one of the busiest nights in accident and emergency departments across the country.

Mr Breeze, now 64, said: " It was pretty scary. I didn't know what was wrong and the journey seemed to take a long time.

"Once there the treatment was fantastic – I had had a serious attack of pancreatitis. The A&E department was incredibly busy but I was rushed passed everyone and dealt with very quickly." Now retired, the former newspaper editor is a Welshpool town councillor. But he has an interest in healthcare, having picked up an award from West Midlands Ambulance for his Oswestry Chronicle Keeping Oswestry Alive campaign, which organised the siting of life-saving defibrillators in the town.

Mr Breeze is very concerned about the possibility of Shrewsbury losing out as the site for a new emergency care centre.

"The extra time that it takes to get to Telford, even on blue lights, could I believe be life threatening. At the best of times it is an extra 20-25 minutes from Shrewsbury to the Princess Royal Hospital. If it were rush hour or in bad weather, or if we had road resurfacing or junction roadworks, it could be well over half an hour."

Welshpool has a minor injuries unit at the town's Memorial Hospital. It is a similar model to the urgent care centres suggested in the Future Fit review.

They include Helen Ayash Hill, from Llynclys, who said: "Sadly I don't think campaigns will make any difference. The powers that be have already decided to axe Shrewsbury A&E in my opinion.

"This Government has compromised resources for hospitals that they are no longer able to function without getting into the red.."

Greg Arnold, from Cabin Lane, Oswestry, said: "The original idea was either A&E or maternity would go to Telford. They have axed the maternity unit in Shrewsbury and now they want to axe A&E?"

He added: "Wrexham A&E can't handle the numbers now so have no chance of dealing with more. Having that much of a gap between the hospitals will cause deaths."

Geoff Lang, director of strategy at Wrexham Maelor, said work is already under way to ensure patients have an alternative.

"We are aware of the Future Fit proposals and recognise that some of these could have a significant impact on the demand for health services in North Wales," he said.

"We are in contact with the Shropshire Clinical Commissioning Group in order to understand the implications of any proposed changes and to ensure that we are part of the planning going forward."

However, in Mid Wales, people have to look to Shropshire for their hospital services as there is no main hospital in north Powys. Councillor Joy Jones from Newtown said: "Wrexham Maelor is just as far away as Telford and going west our nearest hospital is Aberystwyth which is a non-starter because of the dreadful roads."

The nearest minor injuries unit is in Welshpool but Councillor Jones said it was only open during doctors' surgery hours.

"Powys teaching Health Board must look at this situation as a matter of urgency," she said.

As a mother of a son with a childhood of breathing problems, she endured endless trips to the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital.

She fears that if Telford is chosen for the emergency centre, it could be a matter of life and death for patients from her area.

"I feel that if Shrewsbury loses A&E people could die – it is as strong as that," she said. "It takes 30 minutes on a good day to get to the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital on blue lights but it can take up to 40 minutes. To get from Shrewsbury to Telford would be another 18 minutes in an ambulance."

Councillor Jones said there would also be a knock-on effect for Powys ambulances, which will have to go further and "will be taken out of our area for longer".

"Unless we make our voices heard I fear we will end up with the A&E in Telford. And once it is there, it is too late."

Montgomeryshire's MP, Glyn Davies said Shropshire's basic problem is that it has two major hospitals. "It's now obvious that building the Princess Royal Hospital in Telford was a fundamental mistake," he said.

His ideal solution was to have seen the building of a new emergency care hospital on a green field site between Shrewsbury and Telford. But he added: "It was just too expensive."

North Shropshire's MP, Owen Paterson, says he is sick and tired of the arguments between Shrewsbury and Telford.

"With the creation of the urgent care centres it will not matter where the emergency centre is as it will only be the most seriously ill patients who will go there by ambulance," he said. "All other patients will be seen in the urgent care centres.

"What we need to do is ensure that an urgent care centre, preferably one with beds, is built in Oswestry.

"We have lost vital health care in Shropshire. With just one emergency centre we will have the money and the facilities to attract specialist consultants and bring that specialist care back to Shropshire."

Sorry, we are not accepting comments on this article.