Laura Dickens: We are in an economy of cuts, but health services should never be viewed as optional

OVER the past year we’ve seen significant cuts to health services in Aberystwyth, and more so, the cuts to services available for students. Students may make up a transient population of Aberystwyth, but the fact is a significant part of university life is spent living here, therefore having access to key services is vital. Summer has witnessed big changes in terms of the immediate and unexpected closure of the newly renovated  Afallon Ward which offered mental health care, the cutting of the Student Sexual Health Clinic on campus and the floods in June meaning that one of our three doctor’s surgeries had to move premises to Gogerddan, with the free bus provided in the initial weeks to patients also being cut.

Whilst I understand we are very much living in a climate of cuts, we should not be accepting cuts to key health services, especially in a large, relatively isolated town such as Aberystwyth. This puts lots of pressure on the third sector, such as Mind Aberystwyth, who already have limited resources and a wide range to cover to take over these core services on the limited funds they receive.

When it comes down to communication with students, Hywel Dda have been worse than poor at relaying the information of the Sexual Health Clinic’s closure. In fact, the first anyone would have heard of it publicly is through The Courier who broke the story in September. There has been no contact on this issue between the Students’ Union and Hywel Dda Health Board. The only communication received has been via our local MP Mark Williams and AM Elin Jones who have been writing to Hywel Dda on our behalf and have sent responses to express their dismay at the way the situation has been handled. An article appeared in the Cambrian News recently in which Hywel Dda stated that they have arranged alternative services in Padarn Surgery to suit students’ needs, where they can receive contraceptive and GUM clinic provision. However, this is only a recent development. This alternative has not been advertised to students at all and puts pressure on another of the town’s overstretched doctor’s surgeries. Afallon Ward’s sudden closure in July has seen no alternative Aberystwyth service provided, and again no communication with students over anything at all.

The only communication we’ve received has been due to a letter sent from the Chair of Aberystwyth Student Media, stating that Hywel Dda needed to start talking to students. By the time you are reading this article, Hywel Dda will have been up on campus to talk to students about the proposed changes to health services in Ceredigion. I can’t emphasise how much I hope that students will take this opportunity to show how much they care about being consulted.

The relationship between the health board and students is a fundamental one to be looked at. We should not have to contact local figures or the press in order to have desperate situations explained to us. If something is closing, or is facing closure, then it needs to be communicated to students, not just closed completely with the hope that people do not notice until they need to use it.

Aberystwyth is an isolated town. The health services are stretched and whilst it could be an option for us to roll over and accept these closures, either temporary or permanent, we must not accept this treatment from Hywel Dda. We must fight for the communication we deserve, strong promotion of health services, keeping the Student Sexual Health Clinic that we fought hard in 2010 to open and keep fighting cuts to core student services. We are in an economy of cuts, but health services should never be viewed as optional.