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Consultant who criticised hospital is suspended.

Byline: By MADELEINE BRINDLEY Western Mail

A whistleblowing consul-tant has been suspended after publicly criticising his hospital's bed cutting measures. Chris Overton handed out leaflets in Haverfordwest town centre protesting against plans to close a 23-bed ward at Withybush Hospital.

The hand-made document also claims the changes instigated by Pembrokeshire and Derwen NHS Trust could jeopardise the future of obstetric and gynaecology and other speciality services at the hospital.

In-patient beds for gynaecological patients have fallen from 23 five years ago to just eight, and two day-case beds.

The trust reacted last week by suspending Mr Overton, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, who has spoken out against trust management before, on full pay.

The taxpayer must now foot the bill to employ expensive and less experienced locums to cover Mr Overton's work pending the results of a disciplinary hearing, which has yet to be arranged.

It is understood that Mr Overton's unilateral action during the Christmas holidays was sparked by the trust's decision to close ward two at Withybush Hospital, which was used by patients with gynaecological conditions, to make way for a much-needed new endoscopy unit.

Women with gynaecological problems will instead be treated in 'dedicated facilities for women' alongside other surgical female patients.

In the leaflet, entitled 'Save Our Hospital, Save Our Women's Unit' obtained by the Western Mail, Mr Overton said, 'Even if the Welsh Assembly had provided enough money for a new build [endoscopy unit], the chief executive and director of operations would have been unwilling to do this as they are intent on closing ward areas, thus reducing nursing costs at the expense of patient care.'

The leaflet continued, 'The most sinister aspect of this ward closure is the concern it raises about the provision of all surgical specialities and maternity and paediatrics.

'Will they continue in Pembrokeshire?'

Mr Overton also raised concerns in the leaflet about the decision to site the Early Pregnancy Assessment Unit, which cares for women who have a risk of miscarrying and those wanting a termination, next door to the ante-natal clinic.

There is a risk that women could inadvertently access the wrong clinic, causing distress and upset.

But a spokeswoman for Pembrokeshire and Derwen NHS Trust last night said the clinic was now sited in a 'more appropriate outpatient environment' with a separate entrance.

This is the second time Mr Overton has raised concerns about the future viability of services at Withybush Hospital.

He wrote to his patients in August last year criticising trust cost-cutting measures which he claimed were behind bed numbers 'hitting rock bottom'.

At the time a 30-bed ward had been closed for a year for refurbishment and further bed changes were being considered by management.

He said, in the letter, 'I feel that it is important to advise you that the chances of you having a bed when you telephone are becoming less and less likely and obviously, from a management perspective, it is easier to cancel somebody when they are not in the hospital.

'The chief executive, director of operations and other management from the Welsh Assembly Government down through to the chief executives are constantly trying to save money and, unfortunately, the easiest target is the reduction of beds and thereby a reduction in the complement of nursing staff, thus saving salaries.'

The 30-bed ward has since been reopened - described by the trust as the opening of '30 additional medical beds'.

A spokeswoman for Pembrokeshire and Derwen NHS Trust last night confirmed that a consult- ant had been suspended on full pay. However, she would not comment on the circumstances as they are pending further investigation.

But she said the consultant 'wishes it to be known that action does not, in any way, relate to matters of clinical practice'.

The Western Mail asked the trust whether a consultant speaking out about something they do not believe in was a disciplinary offence, but the trust would not comment.

The spokeswoman added, 'Gynaecology patients are cared for on a female surgical ward.

'Through implementation of a number of ward changes, the risk of infection is reduced as we are avoiding the need to outlie medical patients in a surgical ward environment.

'The trust is committed to ensuring that the Pembrokeshire population has access to the best possible obstetrics and gynaecology services.

'Following the Wanless review, the way in which all health services are provided across Wales will need to be examined.

'The work associated with the implementation of the Wanless review is at an early stage and is entirely unrelated to the ward changes at Withybush Hospital.'
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jan 13, 2005
Words:762
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