An English hospital has said it will no longer take in patients living in Wales except for in emergencies or maternity cases amid an ongoing payment dispute.
The trust responsible for running the Countess of Chester has confirmed it has stopped taking referrals for treatment from over the border amid a row over how much money it receives from the Welsh Government.
In October, chair Sir Duncan Nichol said looking after Welsh patients was “hard to countenance” in light of costs of up to £4m each year.
The change has been brought in with immediate effect and will impact thousands of people in Flintshire who currently use the hospital.
Chief executive Susan Gilby said it had been a difficult decision for the board to take, but added it was necessary to address the ongoing funding issues.
She said: “Unfortunately, the trust is currently unable to accept any new elective work relating to patients living in Wales.
“We will of course honour any existing appointments so there will be no disruption for patients already waiting.
“This is a difficult decision that has been taken with great reluctance.
“At the Countess we are mindful of our position close to the border, with many of our patients and staff coming from both England and Wales.
“Unfortunately, this is a step we have had to take as a result of unresolved funding issues.
“However, contract negotiations are continuing.”
About 20 per cent of the Countess of Chester Hospital’s patients are estimated to live in Wales and Sir Duncan previously claimed the trust was not being paid for all its work in relation to them.
In response, the Welsh Government said in October that patients were funded in line with pricing rules set by NHS England.
The Cardiff administration has yet to comment on the latest development, but it has drawn criticism from a Flintshire MP, as well as GPs situated near the border.
Alyn and Deeside MP Mark Tami said: “I am very concerned about this announcement.
“The Countess of Chester was built to care for patients within its proximity – which included people in Flintshire.
“It’s very important that this continues to be the case.
“There have been contrasting statements as to why this has happened which I am already in the process of trying to get to the bottom of.
“All the concerned parties must work towards resolving this issue and ensure Welsh patients can continue to be treated in Chester.”
Doctors from the Marches Medical Practice in Broughton said they felt people should be able to choose where they receive treatment.
They said: “We have not been consulted on this decision and have been led to believe following discussions with health board representatives, it has been made by the Welsh Government.
“We feel strongly as a cross-border practice that patients should be free to choose where they are treated and are extremely disappointed that our patients could be adversly affected by this policy.
“We are hoping this will be a temporary issue and will provide any updates as we receive them.”
Meanwhile, a director for the regional health board in North Wales has confirmed it is working to try and accommodate those affected by the change.
It comes amid concerns it could lead to added pressure on Wrexham Maelor Hospital and Ysbyty Glan Clwyd in Bodelwyddan.
Evan Moore, medical director at Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, said: “The chief executive officer of the Countess of Chester Hospital has written to us to advise that they will be unable to accept any elective referrals in any specialty for Welsh patients until further notice.
“This decision does not affect non elective patients, for example, those attending A&E.
“All cancer patients and urgent elective patients already referred to the COCH and on their waiting list will be treated by them in line with normal protocols.
“Any current or new maternity patients will not be affected and can continue to have their baby at COCH.
“We are working with our teams to accommodate newly referred patients within our existing services and we will be writing to all affected GPs and medical staff to inform them of these changes.”
A Welsh Government spokesperson, said:
“This is not a decision taken by Welsh Government. Along with NHS Wales representatives, Welsh Government has agreed a process of engagement with Department of Health and Social Care officials and representatives from the English NHS to discuss cross-border payment arrangements.
“In the context of ongoing engagement, any actions taken by English providers to limit access for Welsh patients on financial grounds are unacceptable and not in the spirit of reaching a cross-border agreement with English NHS representatives.”
By Liam Randall – Local Democracy Reporter (more here).