Non-urgent operations at hospitals in west Wales are being cancelled so more staff are available to deal with a record number of Covid-19 patients.
Hywel Dda University Health Board, which operates hospitals in Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion, has called off treatments and assessments for patients with “less urgent conditions” for a period of at least four weeks.
It said the decision would allow more clinical staff to focus on the Covid-19 response, as well as supporting inpatient capacity and providing care for patients with the most urgent clinical needs.
The health board said that in recent weeks it had consistently been operating at the “highest levels of emergency pressure escalation”, something which has resulted in delays in ambulance handovers and waiting times, together with a rise in the number of patients waiting to be discharged.
Meanwhile, hundreds of staff are currently off work due to either sickness or because they are in the middle of a period of self-isolation.
In light of those challenges, action is being taken to alleviate pressure on the health board and to “mitigate potential risks to the quality and safety of care we provide to patients”.
Therefore, from Monday, December 21, priority will be given to outpatient clinics, endoscopy investigations, therapeutic interventions and surgical procedures for patients with the most urgent cancer and other high priority clinical need. These changes will be reviewed during the second week of January and if they need to be extended beyond then, they will be reviewed every three weeks thereafter.
“From the outset of the pandemic, the health board has anticipated and planned for the need to redeploy clinical staff into urgent and critical care roles if they are needed,” said Andrew Carruthers, director of operations at Hywel Dda University Health Board.
“The measures we are taking are intended to protect patients with the most urgent clinical need, whilst allowing us to reprioritise staff to mitigate the increasing risk of harm in acute and emergency care, due to the pressures we have spoken about.
“We are working together as one health board and I am deeply proud of all of our staff for their professionalism and commitment to keeping key NHS services running, even in the face of danger, and under extreme pressure and fatigue. Thank you all.”
Mansell Bennett, chair of local patient watchdog, the Community Health Council, added: “Local NHS services are clearly under great pressure currently. We understand that temporary changes and difficult decisions need to be made.
“It’s a really tough time for the NHS staff who are working daily to deliver safe services in hospitals, in GP surgeries, as well as within our communities in a wide range of places.
“Every one of us may need those services or may already use and rely upon them. We have spoken to the health board regularly throughout the pandemic, to monitor the situation as it has been changing. As we approach Christmas, the situation is becoming even more challenging and we’ll continue to listen to what the public are saying.”
How many cases are there in your area? Find out with your post code:
The health board is also urging people to avoid contacting it to cancel appointments, insisting it will contact patients directly if their appointments or admissions are among those to be cancelled.
Emergency services at each hospital will continue as normal.