A vital hospital service is in danger of collapse due to a lack of staff, a Plaid Cymru MS has warned.
Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru’s North Wales MS, said the radiotherapy unit at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd was chronically understaffed in some areas and NHS bosses were having to outsource more and more cancer treatment to other centres in England.
He said: “Concerned NHS insiders have outlined the problems facing the radiotherapy service in north Wales. The unit serves the whole of the North and the radiotherapy physics department in particular is severely understaffed – in the radiotherapy planning area I understand there are big problems after two senior staff members resigned. These two alone had almost 50 years’ experience between them and the lack of capacity now means that junior staff aren’t able to get the training they need to reach competency in a timely fashion. Corners are being cut to try to achieve this.
“There is also a severe lack of engineers in the physics department which means vital maintenance on the specialist machinery is impacted. Without this maintenance, patients can’t be treated.
“In addition, more than 50% of consultants have left in the past three months through resignation or long-term absence. This is on top of existing shortages and I have to question the ability of senior management within Betsi if they are allowing this to happen.
“This is not a new problem – I’m told management have been consistently warned of the impact of staff shortages for a decade and more but there has not been a positive response.
“We now face a situation where even more overstretched staff will be expected to do even more; where waiting lists will increase for those needing important treatment and where more patients will have to travel to other centres in England for treatment – assuming that there is capacity there.”
He said the situation was completely unacceptable and emphasised yet again the failure of the health board to deal with workforce planning and deliver better health care in the North.
Mr Gruffydd added: “A decade ago, NHS bosses trumpeted that they were making big changes and ‘healthcare in north Wales is changing’. Well, it has – for the worse. There are very well publicised problems with mental health, vascular services and the lack of community beds but this is yet another service that demands urgent attention from the health board.
“Experienced staff who know what’s needed describe the future for the radiotherapy unit as ‘scary’ and ‘terrifying’. It’s clear that they are at breaking point and that does not bode well for the future. The staff are the NHS’s greatest asset and they deserve the same care and attention as they give to their patients.
“Across the health board, there are experienced staff saying ‘enough is enough’ and leaving. Despite modest increases in training places in Bangor, Aberystwyth and Wrexham, these new graduates will not be on stream for another three years at the earliest. There doesn’t appear to be an adequate workforce planning strategy in place or a succession plan.
“Without sufficient consultants with specialist skills in areas such as head and neck, gastro-intestinal and colo-rectal, brain and breast cancer, the unit is not viable.
“I’ve written to raise these concerns with the health board but I also need the health minister to understand that the NHS in north Wales is still in crisis, despite the Government’s best efforts to pretend otherwise. Staff need reassurance that people in power – both the health board and Government – are actually aware of the problem and that they have a plan to deal with it. It’s completely unacceptable that they are leaving because of the pressures they are under to do their daily work.”