Hundreds of campaigners marched in protest this weekend at controversial health proposals that could see some services stripped from their local hospital.
Staff at Llantrisant’s Royal Glamorgan Hospital were joined by around 150 members of the public for the protest in Treorchy on Saturday against the potential loss of a number of specialist care services.
The ‘Save Our Services’ campaign has been formed to oppose a ‘best fit’ proposal from health chiefs to omit Royal Glamorgan from a list of five proposed “regional centres”.
Under the South Wales Programme (SWP) board’s proposals, each centre would provide consultant-led services including a top-tier accident and emergency department, maternity and neonatal care unit and an inpatient children’s service.
No decisions have yet been made and a public consultation exercise is ongoing, but SWP board members feel the ‘best fit’ would involve focusing the regional centres at hospitals in Cardiff, Swansea, Bridgend, Merthyr and Cwmbran.
The proposal has angered many Rhondda Valleys residents, who could be faced with the prospect of travelling to Prince Charles Hospital in Merthyr Tydfil or Princess of Wales Hospital in Bridgend to access some specialist care.
Protesters on Saturday wore ribbons and flew helium-filled balloons to express their opposition to the proposals.
Mum-of-two Sara Peachey, 32, from Treherbert, has been a regular user of the Royal Glamorgan with seven-year-old son Harrison, who suffers from Sturge-Weber syndrome – a rare genetic condition which can cause him to have seizures.
“My major concern is that when he has these seizures I need to get Harrison to hospital asap,” she told the Echo.
“I couldn’t contemplate travelling all the way – especially in the winter months – to either Prince Charles [Hospital] or Bridgend. Therefore, as a mother, I would make the decision to take Harrison to the Heath hospital [the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff].”
Currently, Royal Glamorgan provides around 570 beds, nine operating theatres, an AE and a range of critical care services.
Health chiefs argue that a critical shortage of doctors is putting lives at risk and say consolidating services is the only way to provide high-quality emergency and specialist healthcare.
Protestors, who gathered for the march outside the town’s Lion pub, were concerned however about transport links to hospitals in Bridgend and Merthyr.
Colin Evans, 58, from Blaenrhondda, uses the Royal Glamorgan Hospital around once a month due to health issues related to diabetes.
He said: “How do they expect us to get from the top of the valleys to Merthyr or from the bottom of the Rhondda?”
“The roads aren’t always open because of accidents as well as the weather – our local council can’t even keep the road open all the time.”
Labour MP for Rhondda Chris Bryant agreed, calling on health bosses to “redraw” the proposals.
“I say everybody will go to Cardiff and that will put phenomenal pressure on the Heath, so I think they need to redraw the plans,” he said.
“Everybody here in the Rhondda values what the Royal Glamorgan does but it’s about making sure that people who have a stroke, have a heart attack or have a baby where there are some complications have swift and local access to healthcare.
“People in the Rhondda aren’t going to go to Bridgend or Merthyr, they’re going to go to the Heath.
“There’s no parking at the Heath now and it’s going to make it much more difficult for the support around a newborn baby where there have been some complications. I think that is the wrong healthcare decision.”
Campaigners say they have already gathered a 10,000 signature petition and have organised a series of other protests ahead of the public consultation deadline on July 19.
To view and complete the consultation document, visit www.opinionresearch.co.uk/swp