“PEOPLE power” has turned politics on its head, a leading politician has claimed.
After nearly 700 residents voted last week to trigger a referendum on returning hospital beds to Flint, politicians yesterday called for their voice to be heard.
A year after Flint Hospital closed its doors, Flintshire Council yesterday confirmed discussions are taking place with Flint Town Council over arrangements for the town-wide vote which will be the first of its type directly driven by electors in Wales.
North Wales AM Mark Isherwood said the vote was a sign of a huge shift in how politics are done.
“It’s people power turning power on its head,” he said.
“They’re standing up and fighting for something that matters and something they’re absolutely right about. They’re embracing powers the community have to turn things upside down and make politicians more accountable and services more attuned to the needs and wishes of those concerned.”
The Conservative AM said campaigners had shown they were “representing a collective will, regardless of any vested interest”.
“I hope this is a sign of a different way of doing things in the future,” he said.
The healthcare consultation two years ago had been a “sham”, Mr Isherwood added, and he went on to attack Welsh Government health minister Mark Drakeford for failing to intervene with Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board.
“He keeps saying it’s a matter for the health board,” he said. “But we know he could require the health board to listen to the voice of the community and address the real needs they’re highlighting if he had the will to.
“Community beds are absolutely essential.”
Local member for Flint Trelawny Cllr Vicky Perfect said the health board had to take note of people’s wishes.
“They should never have closed it,” she said. “This backlog of ambulances outside Glan Clwyd Hospital where there’s maybe 10 people waiting to be seen – this didn’t happen before.
“Something has gone drastically wrong. It needs a big rethink.
“Flint Hospital was a well-used facility which cost just £900,000 a year to run.
“They should take note of people’s wishes and the 700 people who turned up last week. That many people can’t all be wrong.”
Conservative shadow health minister Darren Millar AM agreed the health board would do well to listen to last week’s vote.
“The people of Flint deserve to have their say on the future of the health service in their area,” he said.
“District general hospitals in Wales are facing a beds crisis at present and extra capacity via community hospital beds may offer a solution to that.
“A local referendum will give decision-makers at the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB) a clear indication of the views of residents and they would do well to pay attention to its outcome.”
Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru AM for North Wales, said the referendum showed the ongoing strength of feeling locally.
“The campaigners, who have refused to let this issue go, deserve huge praise for their tenacity and determination,” he said. “I’m sure the referendum will strengthen the cause and hopefully put greater pressure on the health board and the health minister to rethink their NHS centralisation agenda.
“It’s apparent that community hospitals with beds have an important place in any future Welsh NHS as an intermediate step down from district general hospitals and also for people unable to be treated in their own homes.”
Labour AM for Delyn Sandy Mewies said that ultimately services must meet the present and future needs of the town.
“The result of the referendum will be a matter for BCUHB,” she said, “but whatever the outcome, services must meet the present and future needs of the town.
She said she was disappointed there had been delay and “a great deal of confusion over what will be provided” but she was aware the enhanced care already operating had been valued by those who had received it.
Colin Everett, Flintshire's returning officer confirmed that Flint Town Council had notified him that a local referendum had been called.
He said: “We are in discussion with the Town Council over planning the referendum. A date is yet to be agreed.”
The Welsh Government was asked for a response to last week’s events and to Mr Isherwood’s comments but declined to comment, saying the matter was one for the health board.
A spokesman for BCUHB said the Health Board held more than 40 public consultation meetings across North Wales, including three in Flint itself.
“A series of more in-depth focus groups were also held in Flint, with randomly-selected members of the public invited to take part. The health board met with county councillors and other stakeholders and community representatives, as well as taking the views of Royal Colleges, medical, nursing and other health professional bodies, academic organisations and other relevant interest groups.
“The consultation process was subjected to independent evaluation and verification by the Consultation Institute, and the board’s decisions were then considered by the Community Health Council before the decisions were finally confirmed.”