Health bosses have been urged to act like ‘grown-ups’ to settle a dispute which is preventing thousands of patients in Wales being treated at an English hospital.
Earlier this month, it was revealed the Countess of Chester Hospital would no longer take in outpatients from over the border after officials said they were not being paid sufficiently to look after them.
The move has sparked widespread anger, particularly in Flintshire where a large number of people are affected, and the situation was branded ‘unacceptable’ by Welsh health minister Vaughan Gething.
However, with no end to the disagreement in sight, a North Wales Assembly Member has now called for the NHS trust responsible for running the Countess to enter an arbitration process in order to bring it to a close.
Llyr Gruffydd said a similar issue involving Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital in Shropshire was resolved through the same method.
The Plaid Cymru politician has also challenged the Countess of Chester Hospital NHS Foundation Trust to drop the bar against patients with a Welsh postcode with immediate effect.
He said: “This is the way grown-ups settle disputes – they sit round a table and accept an independent arbitrator’s decision.
As it turned out, the decision was that Gobowen’s hospital trust was charging too much for the Welsh patients and the sum was significantly lower than they would have received if they’d taken the Welsh health board’s offer.
This is in stark contrast to the behaviour of the Countess of Chester Hospital Foundation Trust, which has decided to unilaterally stop treatment of patients while negotiations are ongoing between the NHS in Wales and England about the levels of payment.
While those negotiations are ongoing, I’m urging the Countess management to do the right thing and start admitting Welsh patients again for new outpatient referrals.
“A failure to do so would suggest they have another agenda other than ensuring the best possible care for patients.”
The previous disagreement over payments involving the Gobowen-based hospital came after officials attempted to charge Powys Local Health Board £1.1m for treatment services in 2005/06.
Representatives said it had treated more patients from Powys than it had been paid for.
But an arbitration board ruled that the Welsh health board should pay just £301,451 – less than half what it originally offered.
Mr Gruffydd’s comments were made as a petition launched by his party calling on the Countess to reverse its decision reached around 250 signatures.
Meanwhile, board members from Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board which covers North Wales will receive an update on the dispute later this week with payment negotiations ongoing between various bodies.
He added: “This is a common-sense approach that would mean patients aren’t penalised while the authorities on both sides of the border come to an agreement.
“With that in mind, I’d urge everyone to sign the petition so that we can present it to the Countess of Chester Hospital bosses.”
Mark Tami MP (Lab) says he has continuously raised his concerns about the Countess of Chester Hospital issue and has called for a resolution to be resolved urgently.
The Alyn and Deeside MP has been in constant dialogue with relevant ministers in both the Welsh and UK Government.
Over the weekend he wrote to Baroness Blackwood who is as a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Health and Social Care asking for a full response as to what action has been taken already and when her Department expects the issue to be resolved.
Mark Tami said: “The situation has been absurd and constituents are quite rightly concerned. While this will not affect A&E or patients already being treated it is still totally unacceptable.
A fair resolution that obviously involves the Countess being paid on time for the treatment they do on Welsh patients, but is in line with what the Welsh Government pays its Welsh hospitals and the other hospitals that are close to the border, needs to be found.
“ have asked Baroness Blackwood for an update and I have stressed the urgency of getting this issue resolved as soon as possible.
It is not fair that the people of Flintshire are being treated as they are. I will continue to work with all parties until a resolution is found.”
The Countess of Chester Hospital Foundation Trust has been asked to comment.
By Liam Randall – Local Democracy Reporter (more here) and Deeside.com