Plans for fewer staff in emergency departments revealed in leaked health board document

Part of Wales' largest health board is reducing the amount of money it will spend this winter by a quarter of a million pounds - meaning fewer staff in emergency departments, ITV Wales can reveal.

An internal document referring to the western area of the health board, calls for an "urgent" plan to meet a £250k reduction in seasonal plan funding ahead of the busy winter months.

A 'staffing review' - according to the leaked email - was agreed with money for some nurses being scrapped.

The email specifies the posts and dates in September and October from which they won't be funded.

Last winter, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health board posted the worst A&E performance figures of all Wales' health boards, with extensive ambulance delays outside hospitals and patients spending days in emergency departments instead of hours.

The Royal College of Nursing in Wales said it has been given conflicting information from the health board.

The Director of the Royal College of Nursing, Tina Donnelly, said: "I can't understand why you would look at the areas of high demand and look to see that's where you'll be saving money. I can't get that at all.

"If you're going to look to save money then you're going to look at cost savings that are not going to impact on patient life or demand."

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine says any reduction of funds could compromise patient care.

Dr Jo Mower, Vice President (Elect) of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine Wales said: “Adequate funding and staffing for our Emergency Departments – and for our colleagues in the rest of the health and social care system – is vital to ensure high-quality care. If cuts are made to any part of the system, patient care, dignity and safety could be sacrificed.

“In Emergency Departments, this could mean lengthier waiting times, longer ambulance queues and less time with clinicians. "

A source told ITV News they feared a Mid Staffs situation, whereby financial targets and a pre-occupation with special measures was being put ahead of patient care.

Responding to the leaked information, the Welsh Conservatives said it showed there's been no improvement in the performance of the health board.

Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Health, Angela Burns AM said: "at a time when even the Welsh Government recognises we don’t have enough staff it is simply inconceivable that plans are afoot to cut staff numbers, especially in the north where services are in desperate need of improvement.

“To even consider cutting funding in emergency departments is shocking."

The source said: "the desperate scramble to get out of special measures, and meet the financial targets, is coming above safe staffing. Without safe staffing you can't have safe care. And this is exactly how Mid Staffs developed."

Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, have denied any seasonal plan funding reduction.

Gary Doherty, Chief Executive of Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, said: “Financial considerations and special measures targets are not, and will not be put above patient care and we will not reduce nursing cover over the winter period.

“There is no reduction in the Seasonal Plan Funding across the Health Board.

“We are currently recruiting for a wide range of staff, including an additional two consultants to bring the Emergency Department in line with RCEM standards. To support this have a plan in place to enhance our advanced nurse practitioner roles, this will support nurses providing higher levels of care for patients in our Emergency Departments.

“We’ve also funded an additional six doctors this year for our Emergency Department and have added operational nursing support at senior level to ensure the department is better prepared for the upcoming winter season.”