THE Countess of Chester Hospital is expected to start readmitting outpatients from North Wales once more after an agreement was reached over payments.

Last month, the English NHS body revealed it would no longer be accepting referrals from over the border as it felt it was not receiving sufficient money to treat them.

Anger had been voiced about the hospital's decision, particularly in Flintshire, where thousands of people were previously eligible to receive care.

The situation was branded 'unacceptable' by Welsh health minister Vaughan Gething and a petition against the move set up by Plaid Cymru politicians gathered hundreds of signatures.

Earlier this week, Mark Tami, MP for Alyn and Deeside, said he was confident the issue would soon be resolved.

Mr Gething has now announced that a deal over tariff rates has been reached with NHS England and the expects the Countess to start readmitting Welsh patients.

The Labour AM said: “As explained in the statement I issued on 11 April, regarding the unilateral decision taken by the Countess of Chester Hospital (CoCH) in relation to Welsh patients, engagement has continued at both ministerial and official level with the UK Government to resolve the issue in the best interest of patients.

“I can now confirm that cross-border healthcare arrangements for 2019/20 have been agreed.

“My expectation is that the CoCH will honour the agreement reached and reverse the decision not to accept new elective referrals for Welsh patients.”

Last week, North Wales health officials said they had been monitoring the number of referrals received back from the Countess of Chester since the decision took effect at the start of April.

In total, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board took on 69 referrals which would previously have gone over the border.

The majority were said to relate to dentistry and orthodontics.

Mr Gething has expressed his frustration at Countess bosses for stepping outside of the national pay negotiations which were already taking place when their decision was taken.

He said: “This was wholly avoidable and a transparent breach of the agreed protocol on cross border healthcare.

“What is evident is that changes introduced to the tariff costs in England since 2017 have created a complex set of issues in relation to cross border arrangements.

“My focus during the last month has been in resolving the issue and moving quickly to agree a solution in the best interest of patients.

“I am hopeful the agreement reached provides re- assurance to Welsh residents that depend on cross border healthcare arrangements.”

Despite Mr Gething's comments, a Conservative AM has claimed it was the UK Government that was responsible for stepping in to resolve the crisis.

Welsh Conservative health spokesman Darren Millar said he believed the issue raised its head because of poor planning by the Welsh Government.

He said: “Although I’m delighted to hear that the UK Government has stepped in to help the patients of North Wales, it’s a great shame that it came to this.

“The Welsh Labour Government already received £1.20 to spend on patients for every £1 spent in England, but thanks to characteristic abysmal planning by the health minister, the correct rates were not paid for several years to the English hospitals propping up the Welsh NHS, and warnings to the government were ignored.

“Now that even more money will need to be provided by the UK Government for this financial year, Welsh Conservatives will be keeping a close eye on how the Welsh Government moves forward with this situation, holding it to account and ensuring patients are not left to suffer again thanks to its disastrous inability to plan ahead with our healthcare system.”