|* People on the floor on the meeting before it got under way.|
|* On the platform, from left, Llyr Huws Gruffydd AM, chairman Martin Crumpton, Pol wong and Mark Isherwood AM.|
Over 70 people turned up at the Hand Hotel in the town earlier tonight (Thursday) to hammer out the issues surrounding the proposed closure of Llan Cottage Hospital.
At the end of a sometimes heated debate, those present voted overwhelmingly in favour of a referendum in which all local residents will have the chance to vote on the issue.
Martin Crumpton, who has so far led the unofficial opposition to the closure – proposed recently in a report by the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board – was elected chairman of the meeting by 29 votes to 27.
In his opening statement he said: “Our only weapon is strength of public opinion.”
He said that as someone who was not in the best of health, he was one of the many local people who would miss services provided at the community hospital if they were withdrawn.
People would also miss the palliative and end-of-life care provided by the hospital.
On the platform for the meeting were Conservative Assembly Member for North Wales Mark Isherwood, the Shadow Housing and Communities Minister in the Welsh Assembly, Plaid Cymru Assembly Member for North Wales Llyr Huws Gruffydd and Pol Wong, who was once the lease-holder of the River Lodge, on whose land the health board may build a new health care facility for the town.
Speaking first, Mr Isherwood explained that, in its report, the health board was suggesting the replacement of facilities at the Cottage Hospital by tendering some of them out to the private sector and having others delivered at Chirk Hospital.
The report also said there was no space at the hospital to extend current provision.
He said the NHS in North Wales had found itself in the position of having to make such proposals because of a lack of investment by the Welsh Government.
Mr Isherwood said he had opposed the closure of similar community hospitals before by forming an organisation called CHAR – Community Hospitals Acting Together – in 2005, which had been successful in forcing the Welsh Government to abandon the plans.
He went on to suggest ways in which people in Llangollen could mount a similar campaign, one of which was by taking an active part in the official consultation period on the closure proposal, due to be launched by the health board on August 24.
He also suggested a campaign of letter writing to the board, both individually and collectively.
Llyr Huws Gruffydd said that if they wished to oppose the closure of the hospital the people of Llangollen must “all come together and speak as one”.
He added that if the hospital did close there must be “cast iron guarantees” that replacement services were provided before current services were lost.
Mr Gruffydd said there were other serious issues to consider when it came to to keeping the Cottage Hospital open, including how local people would access replacement services given that half the population of North Wales were now facing “transport poverty”, and how the ambulance service, which was already under pressure, would cope with demands to ferry more people to appointments outside Llangollen.
He added: “I really feel we should have been a series of options when it came to the future of health services in this area.”
And he asked: “Are we being funnelled into a particular outcome?”
He concluded: “This is not the Welsh Government or the Betsi Cadwaladr’s health service, it’s our service and our hospital.
“It was given to the people of Llangollen and it’s up to the people of Llangollen to come to their own conclusions about the way services are offered.”
A question and answer session was then held.
But before it began, John Palmer said from the floor he wanted it noted that “not everyone in the room was opposed to these plans”.
Mr Crumpton said this was understood.
· What happens to the money given to the hospital by benefactors and donors over the years if the hospital closes? Mark Isherwood said this was a point which needed to be put to the health board. Another person said from the floor this money would be safe because there was a stipulation it could only be used for the hospital.
· Another person claimed from the floor the hospital building was originally given by the Best family of Vivod solely for use as a hospital and, should it close, it would have to revert to the family.
· It was stressed from the floor that other services must be in place before any were withdrawn from the Cottage Hospital.
· Town councillor Tim Palmer, speaking from the floor, asked: “Why do you oppose a multi-million pound health centre in our town? Mr Crumpton replied: “We are here to consider the proposed closure of the hospital – I have said nothing about the health centre.” Cllr Palmer later added: “Investment in health is essential – when the Welsh Government are looking to put money into our town we should grab that with both hands.”
· A suggestion from the floor was that money earmarked for a new health centre should instead be spent on improving the hospital.
· Someone from the floor questioned why Clwyd South Labour Assembly Member Ken Skates wasn’t at the meeting. Mr Crumpton replied that he had not been invited because “we are the opposition group and he is in favour of it.” Someone from the floor objected to being described as the “opposition group”.
Mr Crumpton ended the meeting by calling for a referendum to be held on the hospital closure eligible only to Llangollen voters.
A number of people in the audience objected to the referendum call on the basis that they were being “put under pressure” by it and that it was “entirely inappropriate”.
However, Mr Crumpton rejected these arguments and calls for an amendment to the proposal.
He read out the referendum question, which states: “Do you want to keep Llangollen Cottage Hospital open and retain its beds, services, staff and facilities?”
In a vote, 51 people backed the proposal with none voting against and seven abstaining.