AN ENGLISH hospital has said it will no longer take in Welsh patients except for in emergencies or maternity cases.

The decision has been brought in with immediate effect and will impact thousands of people in Flintshire who currently use the the Countess of Chester Hospital.

It means GPs will not be able to refer them for treatment over the border and could place added pressure on busy departments at Wrexham Maelor Hospital and Ysbyty Glan Clwyd in Bodelwyddan.

The revelation follows a row over payments made to the Chester hospital for caring for patients from Wales.

The trust which runs it has yet to disclose the official reason for the change, but in October its chair, Sir Duncan Nichol, said looking after them was “hard to countenance” in light of costs of up to £4m each year.

A director for the regional health board in North Wales has confirmed their English counterpart’s position and said it was working to try and accommodate those affected.

Evan Moore, medical director at Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, said: “The chief executive officer of the Countess of Chester Hospital has written to us to advise that they will be unable to accept any elective referrals in any specialty for Welsh patients until further notice.

“This decision does not affect non elective patients, for example, those attending A&E.

“All cancer patients and urgent elective patients already referred to the COCH and on their waiting list will be treated by them in line with normal protocols.

“Any current or new maternity patients will not be affected and can continue to have their baby at COCH.

“We are working with our teams to accommodate newly referred patients within our existing services and we will be writing to all affected GPs and medical staff to inform them of these changes.”

About 20 per cent of the Countess of Chester Hospital’s patients are estimated to live in Wales and Sir Duncan previously claimed the trust was not being paid for all its work in relation to them.

In response, the Welsh Government said patients were funded in line with pricing rules set by NHS England.

However, the Cardiff administration has been blamed for the decision in a letter to patients written by representatives from a GP surgery on the edge of the border between Flintshire and Cheshire.

Doctors from the Marches Medical Practice in Broughton said they felt people should be able to choose where they receive treatment.

They said: “We have been informed this week via the Countess of Chester appointments service that the Countess of Chester Hospital will no longer be accepting outpatient referrals for patients who live in Wales.

“We have not been consulted on this decision and have been led to believe following discussions with health board representatives, it has been made by the Welsh Government.

“We feel strongly as a cross-border practice that patients should be free to choose where they are treated and are extremely disappointed that our patients could be adversly affected by this policy.

“We are hoping this will be a temporary issue and will provide any updates as we receive them.”

The Countess of Chester Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and the Welsh Government have been asked to comment.