Today, the Assembly Government Health Minister issued a letter to Assembly Members informing them that new Renal Dialysis units are to be located at Welshpool and Llandrindod Wells Hospitals in Powys. I thought I was hearing things. Ironically, at the very same time, I was being skewered on Radio Shropshire for the delays there have been to promised developments of a Welshpool Unit over many years - because Welshpool renal patients are currently being turned away from Shrewsbury Hospital. They are being forced to even further afield, because of a lack of capacity at Shrewsury. You might ask why I should be taking stick for this, but once you cross Offa's Dyke, anyone who has or has had anything to do with the National Assembly is treated as one single amorphous blob.
Let's just go back a bit. There's been a campaign for a dialysis unit at Welshpool for many years. Promises have been made and broken. And then almost a year ago there was great joy locally when every relevant person in Wales met at a crucial one-day conference in Cardiff and decided that Powys should have joint top priority in Wales for investment in new dialysis provision. This decision was forwarded as a recommendation to the Minister, who had already made significant financial provision for increasing dialysis capacity across Wales. Great celebrations locally. I joined in. In early summer, we were told that £2.6 million had been 'set aside' for such provision in Powys, and a 'project board' was established by the Welsh renal network to deliver the Welshpool unit. I read emails from Assembly officials predicting that a temporary 'demountable' unit would be in operation before the end of the year. Now its true that the Minister didn't make an official 'announcement', but her officials have left no doubt in our minds that a unit was going ahead in Welshpool. Over recent weeks, local campaigners have become increasingly frustrated as this 'Project Board' has progressed with the urgency of an arthritic snail. We've begun to wonder if it will ever happen. People who have raised money are diverting their donations to other local charities. A recent meeting of the local League of Friends was left stunned by the negativity shown by the leader of the Project Board when reporting on (lack of) progress. You can see why I was so underwhelmed by today's announcement. It's great to hear the Minister provide reassurance. But what she really needs to do is put a rocket up the backside of the officials who have responsibility for delivering her policies. I'm tempted to name names Maybe next time. A particularly explosive rocket will be needed.