RESIDENTS of the Wye Valley unable to choose where they are treated on the NHS will be given further options after three years of campaigning.
Action for Our Care, an action group established to raise issues about cross-border healthcare, held a public meeting in St Briavels on Saturday (16th April).
Since devolution in 2012, residents who were registered to a GP practice in Wales had to have treatment in Wales, even if they lived in England. This has left frustrated residents with apparently longer waiting times and, as the group say, the “worst of all worlds” as they cannot vote in Wales.
The meeting was attended by Forest of Dean MP Mark Harper, Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group representative Dr Marion Andrews-Edwards and around 200 concerned residents, who heard stories from individuals affected by the issue.
One speaker was Annie Mulholland, a former Cardiff resident with terminal ovarian cancer who claimed she was forced to move to England to access a better range of cancer treatments and clinical trials.
She spoke of the difficulty to get onto a clinical trial outside Wales. Despite wanting “desperately” to have treatment in Wales, when she was “put to the back of the queue” after an appointment clash, she was told she would have to wait 12 weeks for another appointment in Wales, compared to a waiting time in England of 10 days.
Dr Andrews-Evans announced that a new Referral Assessment Centre based in Shropshire will open by 1st July, providing help for residents affected by the issue. GPs will be able to refer residents to the centre, potentially allowing them to have treatment in England if it is necessary. Of the 20,000 residents in the UK affected by the issue, more than 8,000 live in Gloucestershire.
It was also confirmed that the 21,000 leaflets alerting residents to the changes, which the acton group claim have been ‘gathering dust’, will be delivered.
Chepstow GP Dr Alastair Jackson said: “I have been a GP for 32 years and three-quarters of my patients live in England and one-quarter live in Wales. Until devolution, this was no problem.”
Helen Molyneux, Forest of Dean councillor for Tidenham suggested that the situation had been an “unintended consequence of devolution legislation,” and that people living on the wrong side of the border were suffering from a “democratic deficit”.
Mr Harper MP later wrote on social media: “I am really grateful to Pam Plummer and Action for Our Care who have worked tirelessly to ensure these problems are rectified.
“This is a real positive step forward. I am also pleased that NHS England, nearby GPs and all of the relevant local councils have been committed to solving these problems.
“The progress we have made is the result of three years worth of hard campaigning. At the previous public meeting I attended in 2013, the very clear steer was that people didn’t want to change GPs. This meant that ministerial colleagues have had to find a solution that allowed people to stay with their GPs and access the services they are entitled to as English residents. It is disappointing that the Welsh Government has not been very helpful in trying to fix this situation. Despite this, I feel we are now in a good place to move forward and I will continue to follow closely the progress the CCG makes in the weeks ahead.”