Alex Seabrook, local democracy reporter
A letter signed by 163 “senior clinicians” is calling for the new Velindre cancer hospital to be built at the Heath instead of in Whitchurch.
The new Velindre Cancer Centre is planned on land known locally as the Northern Meadows, scrubland popular with walkers in northwest Cardiff.
But the letter addressed to the health minister Vaughan Gething says building the cancer hospital next to the University Hospital of Wales would be safer for patients.
It is unclear who signed the letter, which was revealed after a freedom of information request, as the signatures were redacted.
The letter, sent last month, said: “As a large group of clinicians who are all specialists in the diagnosis, treatment and care of cancer patients in southeast Wales, we recognise the pressing need to address the ageing facilities of the Velindre Cancer Centre in north Cardiff.
“Co-location with an acute hospital would provide safer acute in-patient care, improve support from other specialities, create a better base for research and be in line with best practice elsewhere.”
The new hospital is set to replace the current 60-year-old centre in Whitchurch. Velindre says the massive £180 million investment will improve the quality and safety of care and enhance the patient experience.
Campaigners Save the Northern Meadows have previously raised concerns about the environmental impacts of building a hospital on the meadows — land which is owned by Cardiff & Vale UHB but is used often by members of the public for walking.
Adding another aspect to the debate is the medical question of whether it’s best to treat cancer patients at a separate site or next to a large existing acute hospital.
The 163 clinicians who signed the letter did not want to be named publicly, according to Save the Northern Meadows, for fear of bullying.
In the letter, the clinicians added: “We are convinced there is an opportunity to integrate existing plans for the Velindre Cancer Centre new-build with those for a reconfigured University Hospital Wales.”
Velindre is planning to open the new hospital in 2024. The hospital already has planning permission from Cardiff council. But the next step is getting approval from the Welsh Government, which means the health minister signing off the outline business case.
After that, construction work on the new hospital is scheduled to begin next year.
Much of the debate around the medical question centres on a report carried out by the Nuffield Trust, an independent think tank.
The Nuffield report, published last December, gave advice on the clinical model underpinning the major proposed changes to cancer services offered by Velindre.
The changes include delivering more care in patient’s homes, creating new sites across south-east Wales including a radiotherapy centre in Abergavenny, and building the new hospital on the Northern Meadows.
The report found that co-locating the new hospital at the UHW “would have advantages, but is not practical for some considerable time”, while cancer services in the region need to improve urgently and the current hospital is “not fit for purpose”.
It recommended focusing care at the new hospital on outpatients, while inpatients at risk of “major escalation” should be treated elsewhere, like at the UHW. Overall, the report said the plans Velindre is suggesting “represents a reasonable way forward”.
A joint statement from Velindre and three health boards — Aneurin Bevan, Cardiff & Vale and Cwm Taf Morgannwg — backed the findings of the Nuffield report.
The statement said: “We fully support the Nuffield Trust’s comprehensive and expert report on the future of non-surgical oncology in south-east Wales. We are working together to ensure that all the recommendations are taken forward.
“The Nuffield Trust’s process allowed for a broad range of views to be heard by interviewing a range of clinicians from Velindre and surrounding health services, patients and their representatives including hosting open access sessions for Velindre staff, reviewing papers from working groups, individual testimonies and letters from patients and staff.
“We are fully committed to working together to deliver excellent cancer treatment and care for patients across south-east Wales in partnership with our staff, patients and healthcare colleagues.”
Four new cases of South African Covid variant detected in Wales
Public Health Wales has confirmed four additional cases of the South African variant of Coronavirus in Wales, bringing the total number to 17.
The four new cases are all linked with international travel or have relevant contacts, and there is no evidence of wider community transmission.
Three of the new cases were identified in West Wales, and all had links to international travel. The remaining new case was identified as part of contact tracing associated with the known case in Neath Port Talbot.
Public Health Wales says it is working with the Welsh Government, Betsi Cadwaladr, and Swansea Bay University Health Boards, and local authorities in Carmarthenshire, Conwy and Neath Port Talbot to investigate cases with no known link to travel or relevant contacts. No outbreak has been declared.
Scientists fear vaccines may be less effective against the South African variant, which is spreading rapidly in parts of England. However, there is currently no evidence that the new strain causes more severe illness in those infected.
Meanwhile, the latest figures from PHW have confirmed 14 people have died due to Covid-19 and 290 new cases have been detected over the last 24 hours.
Betsi Cadwaladr, Hywel Dda and Swansea Bay health board areas each reported three deaths since yesterday’s report. There were two in both Cardiff and Vale and Cwm Taf Morgannwg and one in Aneurin Bevan.
Flintshire (43) recorded the highest number of new cases, followed by Cardiff (36) and Conwy (21).
Twelve of the 22 local authorities in Wales reported case numbers in single figures yesterday.
Flintshire currently has the highest weekly case rate at 126.8 per 100,000 people and the highest positive test proportion at 12.3% per 100,000 tests.
The total number of people in Wales who have had their first dose of a Covid vaccine is now 822,633, an increase of 15,282 since yesterday.
Welsh Conservatives pledge to re-establish the Welsh Development Agency
In the Welsh Conservatives’ first major manifesto announcement in the build up to May’s Senedd election, Russell George MS, Shadow Minister for Economy and Transport has outlined plans to re-establish the Welsh Development Agency (WDA) if the Tories are voted into government.
Established in 1976, the WDA was a QUANGO tasked with boosting the Welsh economy by encouraging business development and investment in Wales.
The WDA contributed to the building of the Millennium Stadium and the Millennium Centre and was involved in the establishment of the National Botanic Garden for Wales, the Llanelli Coastal Path and removed contaminated land and reclaimed and removed coal tips in south Wales.
It ceased to exist on 1 April 2006, when it was merged into the Welsh Government.
In his article published on the Institute for Welsh Affairs website, Mr George writes that to help revive the Welsh economy, a Welsh Conservative government would bring back the best of the Welsh Development Agency as well as bringing together the Development Bank of Wales and Business Wales.
“Our aim would be to create a more nimble, agile, and dynamic business entity – a one-stop shop – to respond to the needs of firms large and small after the pandemic.”
“Its reintroduction would give Welsh firms a much-needed cutting edge as we seek to take advantage of the opportunities provided by Brexit and would build capacity in a creaking economy in desperate need of a turbo-charge.”
“A Welsh Conservative government will build our nation out of the pandemic,” he added.
“As well as the M4 relief road, we’ll upgrade the A55 and the A40, and our plan to rebuild Wales will create at least 50,000 new jobs across a range of sectors.”
New system will more accurately track waiting times for cancer services in Wales
New figures showing the time it takes for for a patient to be referred for a cancer diagnosis through to treatment are being published by the Welsh Government from today.
The Suspected Cancer Pathway (SCP) figures are being reported from a new system which collects patient level data and provides more figures for waiting times.
The pathway has been designed to cut waiting times for cancer diagnosis and treatment with the aim that all patients begin their treatment no later than 62 days from the time cancer is suspected.
Wales is the first UK nation to report on cancer waiting times in this way.
The new streamlined approach was first announced in November 2018 and was published for the first time alongside the old metrics in August 2019.
Since December no adjustments will be allowed meaning the SCP shows the exact time patients waited.
Today’s published statistics show 1,345 patients started first definitive treatment on the suspected cancer pathway in the month of December 2020.
Of these, 882, (65.6 per cent) patients started definitive cancer treatment within 62 days from point of suspicion. This is a positive increase of 2.1 percentage points from November 2020 (63.5 per cent).
7,999 patients were confirmed as not having cancer.
A more detailed dashboard will also be available from March 2021 which will show more information on waiting times such as the wait to first appointment, the wait to first diagnostic and breakdowns by health board, gender and tumour site.
Richard Pugh, Head of Partnerships at Macmillan Cancer Support and Chair of the Wales Cancer Alliance, welcomed the new system and said: “This gives us a more accurate picture of real cancer waiting times and has unearthed hidden waits, which has been even more important during the coronavirus pandemic during which screening and cancer diagnostics have been disrupted.
“A cancer diagnosis can’t wait so we would urge anyone with new concerning symptoms, such as an ongoing cough, a new lump or unexplained bleeding, to contact their GP as soon as possible.
“Anyone who wants information, support or a chat relating to cancer can contact Macmillan free on 0808 808 0000.”
Campaign launched to engage new voters in Wales
A campaign has been launched to encourage new groups of people resident in Wales to make their voices heard in the upcoming elections.
The Senedd and Elections (Wales) Act, which received Royal Assent in January 2020, extended the vote in Senedd elections to 16 and 17 -year-olds and qualifying foreign nationals living in Wales.
The first election for these newly enfranchised groups will be the Senedd elections planned for May 2021.
The Minister for Housing and Local Government, Julie James, said: “True democracy means everyone getting involved and having a say. Using your vote is one of the ways you can make your voice heard.
“The upcoming Senedd elections represent an exciting opportunity for new 16 and 17-year-old voters and qualifying foreign nationals to use their vote for the first time to shape public services in Wales, and to create a Wales which fits the needs of future generations.
“It’s also the perfect chance for those who don’t usually use their vote to have their say and shape genuine democratic renewal in Wales. By taking part in these and future elections, your voice and opinions will help shape growth and positive change in Wales.
“Our Welsh Government ambition of building a more equal Wales, representing the needs of all citizens and all communities in Wales, depends on the voices of all ages, all community groups and all regions of Welsh society being heard. By getting involved, you can influence decisions affecting your local area and Wales as a whole.”