10th February 2017

£600m Arch bid to ‘transform’ west Wales NHS

The NHS in south west Wales cannot continue to deliver services in the same way as it has done for 70 years, health bosses have warned.

They say “sticking plaster” solutions cannot tackle the “huge pressure” on services.

It comes as two health boards and Swansea University will soon submit ambitious £600m plans for transforming healthcare.

It includes an eye-catching £225m “wellness” village near Llanelli.

This lakeside complex close to the coast would combine health facilities, life science research, sport and leisure with a care home and assisted living.

Abertawe Bro Morgannwg (ABMU) and Hywel Dda health boards – responsible for one million people – are working together with Swansea University in what is being described as a “totally unique” partnership.

The £600m proposals were first unveiled 18 months ago, but the Arch project has now progressed and will shortly go to Welsh Government for consideration.

It includes:

  • Morriston Hospital – Swansea’s largest – would be expanded and focus exclusively on the care of the sickest patients;
  • Land next to the hospital would be used to build a life science research campus. The aim is to attract international and home-grown pharmaceutical or medical technology firms – with west Wales an “ideal test-bed” for research and collaboration with the NHS;
  • A health and well-being academy at Singleton Hospital in Swansea would become a centre of excellence for out-of hospital care, day cases and diagnostic tests.

The move would mean it is less likely staff would be shared across the two Swansea hospital sites.

“There has been too much of a piecemeal approach to change (in the NHS) over the years,” said Prof Hamish Laing, medical director at ABMU health board.

“We knew what we’ve wanted to do – just didn’t have the mechanisms to do it.”

Prof Laing added: “The NHS in south west Wales is under a huge pressure, a lot of financial pressure and workload pressure. We see Arch as our way of planning our way out of that – to address the primary problems, not just a sticking plaster.”

But the plans are not only about re-designing treatment services – there is also focus on services that help us stay well.

One of the most ambitious elements is a plan to build a £225m “wellness and life sciences village” – in association with Carmarthenshire Council – on former industrial land close to the Llanelli coast.

The concept, which is described as a “world first”, would bring together a range of services which help people lead healthier lives and deliver care closer to people’s homes.

It includes an eco-park, community health centre and rehabilitation centre but also a “wellness hotel” with spa – to try to tap into the emerging wellness tourism sector.

Councillor Meryl Gravell, executive member for regeneration and on the board of Arch, said it was originally going to be just a leisure centre but they wanted to do much more and look at health in the round.

“We cannot go back to silo mentality,” she said. “It’s not just about austerity, this makes sense, this is what we should be doing, working together. The impact is going to be huge and I think this is a world first.”

Bernardine Rees, chairman of Hywel Dda health board, hoped Arch would offer opportunities to address severe recruitment problems of medical staff in west Wales – with the idea of cutting edge healthcare and research taking place in rural as well as urban areas.

As it stands, nearly a quarter of the health board’s spend on consultants is on temporary staff.

“It’s no longer the geography of the place which attracts young, mobile consultants, it’s about the ability to offer research and development, enable them to be innovative and to work with other professionals,” said Ms Rees.

“This has never been done before.”

A key element of the project is bringing in private sector companies to work alongside the NHS.


According to Prof Marc Clement, vice president of Swansea University and dean of the school of management, the institution will be instrumental in bringing about this culture shift

“Arch covers a population of one million and 30,000 healthcare workers. That’s attractive to the private sector – it’s a relatively homogenous stable population – a wonderful living laboratory, a test-bed for innovation.”

He said innovation was essential to meet the NHS’s challenges and the university could act as a conduit.

“We’re seeing a level of interest (from international companies) that I haven’t seen in my career previously,” he added.

But according to Prof Clement, the collaboration would not be a smooth journey.

“This isn’t easy – there are very robust discussions happening behind closed doors. There are challenges in building such a consortium.

“However the prize is just enormous and it’s a duty on us to get this done.”

It is hoped the Arch project could support the creation of more than 2,500 jobs and give the economy of south west Wales a boost of more than £350m over 10 years.

That in itself it is argued will have a positive impact on health and well-being.

But much of the funding behind the plans is based on the UK government giving the go-ahead the Swansea Bay city deal.

That decision is expected within weeks.