OPERATIONS across North Wales would not have been cancelled this week had community hospital beds been kept open.
That is the view of Dr Phil White, secretary of the North Wales Medical Committee.
On Tuesday, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB) announced they would cancel all non-emergency operations this week at Wrexham Maelor Hospital, as well as at Glan Clwyd and Ysbyty Gwynedd Hospitals.
In a statement, they claimed increased pressure for urgent care had placed an added strain on the system.
The health board said many patients were elderly and frail which has meant them staying in hospital for longer, increasing pressure on hospital beds.
But Dr White said doctors had warned the reduction of community hospital beds through the closure of hospitals, including in Llangollen and Flint, would have a negative impact.
Flint Hospital closed its doors for the last time in August after a lengthy and vociferous protest from opponents, while Llangollen Hospital stopped taking in-patients last February.
Campaigners say the closure of Llangollen Hospital meant 18 beds were lost, while Flint Hospital lost 14 beds.
Dr White said the health board had not heeded warnings over the community hospital closures.
“This is not something that’s happened overnight. We’ve been warning about this for nearly five years because of the fall in the number of available beds,” he told BBC Wales.
He added the health board had cut the number of beds but had not put other provisions in place.
Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board said the changes it is making to community services are to reduce the need for admissions.
But Mabon ap Gwynfor, of the Keep Llangollen Health Services group which campaigned to keep Llangollen Hospital, said he saw these problems coming.
He said: “This is why we didn’t want to see the health board close Llangollen Hospital.
“It’s not because we want to keep outdated buildings but because we want to see a first class health service provided to the people of this area.
“We warned them that closing Llangollen hospital beds would put pressure on Wrexham Maelor.
“We warned them that added pressure due to community bed closures would result in superbug and Norovirus outbreaks.
“And we warned them that patients would have to travel further away from their family and friends. This has all happened within less than a year of the hospital’s closure.
“We welcome the development of a much-needed new health centre in Llangollen but not at the expense of losing hospital beds.
“We continue to call for hospital beds to be included in the new development.”
Mike Evans, chairman of Flint Hospital Campaign Group, said: “You didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to know there would be problems.
“It’s inevitable when the health board have done what they have done.
“They are cancelling routine operations and we have not even had the winter pressures of snow and ice yet.
“They removed the community beds too fast, too soon.”
A spokesperson for Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board said: “Over the last few days there has been a sustained increase in demand for emergency health care across North Wales. This has led to significant pressures on the Emergency Departments at Ysbyty Gwynedd, Glan Clwyd and Wrexham Maelor Hospitals.
“Many of the patients we have been admitting to hospital have complex multiple health problems and have been elderly and frail.
“This means they require the high levels of care and medical input that is provided in main acute hospitals and would not be suitable to be looked after in a community hospital.
“It also means they are having to stay in hospital for longer periods.
“This has led to increased pressure on acute hospital beds and the risk of delays for other patients needing emergency care.
“ The changes we are making to community services are to reduce the need for hospital admissions and to help people get home more quickly if they have been admitted.
“The services we are developing, such as enhanced care where multi-disciplinary teams treat appropriate patients at home, help people to maintain a better level of health and avoid the acute episodes of illness that are behind the current pressures.”