News in brief: Covid rates in Wales now the highest in the UK
Wales and Scotland have the highest Covid rates in the UK, according to the latest figures released by the Office for National Statistics.
Over the week ending 25 September the ONS estimates 53,000 people in Wales had Covid, an increase of 3,000 on the previous seven days and the equivalent of one in 55 of the community population.
In Scotland, the percentage of people testing positive for the virus decreased from 120,200 to 97,700, a fall of 19% week-on-week and also the equivalent of one in 55 people.
England currently has the lowest infection rate in the UK at one in 85 but the number of infections has increased from 620,100 to 658,800 over the week, and in Northern Ireland the number of cases fell from 30,300 to 28,000 in the latest study, the equivalent of one in 65 of the population.
Meanwhile, Public Health Wales has reported five further deaths due to Covid and 3,009 new positive tests for the virus in the last 24 hour.
Since the start of the pandemic in March last year 5,897 have people have died in Wales due to Covid.
There have been 20,128 new cases in the seven days ending 26 September, with the weekly case rate across Wales falling to 638.4 per 100,000 people from 648.1 since yesterday’s report.
Neath Port Talbot continues to have the highest rate in the country at 907.8, a fall of 27.9 in the last 24 hours but still the highest across the whole of the UK and eight of the 10 worst affected local authorities in the UK are in Wales.
Speaking in the Senedd earlier in the week, First Minister Mark Drakeford reiterated the prediction that the high rate of infections in Wales would decline later this month and expressed anxiety at the rates recorded in recent weeks.
“I look at those figures every day, and to me, they are still a matter of considerable anxiety, but our scientific advisers continue to say to us that that is what they would have expected—that this is still consistent with what the modelling would have led them to believe would be the case, and we can hope that during the month of October, we will see those numbers plateau, and hopefully begin to reduce,” he said.
Independent review announced into Carmarthenshire TB outbreak
Public Health Wales and Hywel Dda University Health Board (UHB) have announced an independent review will be held into the response to an outbreak of Tuberculosis in Carmarthenshire.
Since the start of the outbreak in Llwynhendy in 2010, one person has died, and more than 250 cases of TB were identified.
The review, which is being commissioned because of the duration of the outbreak and the significant number of people who have been affected, will be chaired by Professor Mike Morgan, previously NHS England’s National Clinical Director for Respiratory Disease.
Dr Fu-Meng Khaw, National Director, Health Protection and Screening Services/Executive Medical Director at Public Health Wales, said: “We understand that the TB outbreak has been very concerning for the Llwynhendy community and for everyone involved, in particular for the family of the patient who very sadly died.
“Public Health Wales and Hywel Dda UHB have jointly commissioned this review in order to ensure that the response to the outbreak was as robust as possible, and to ensure that lessons are learned for any future outbreak of TB.”
A report on the findings of the review is expected around May 2022, with an interim report being made available in February 2022.
Scheme offering incentives for recruitment of apprentices extended
The Welsh Government has announced an extension of the Apprenticeship Employer Incentive Scheme until February 2022.
The scheme offers incentives for businesses to recruit apprentices and was introduced as part of the government’s programme to support businesses and workers in recovering from the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
Since its inception in April last year, the scheme, which was due to end on 30 September, has resulted in the recruitment of more than 5,500 new apprentices.
Under the scheme businesses can claim up to £4,000 for each new apprentice they hire under the age of 25 for at least 30 hours per week and £2,000 if they employ an apprentice for under 30 hours a week.
For workers aged 25 and over, businesses can access £2,000 for each new apprentice they hire on a 30 hour or more contract, and a £1,000 incentive for apprentices working less than 30 hours.
“The Welsh Government has provided crucial support to businesses and workers throughout the pandemic and today’s announcement further builds on that,” Economy Minister Vaughan Gething said.
“We recognised the particular economic impact of Covid-19 on people aged under 25 and we are already seeing the positive impact the Employer Incentive Scheme is having for that age group, as well as others. I want to see that continue alongside our ambitious Young Person’s Guarantee. The Welsh Government is determined that there will be no lost generation in Wales as a result of the pandemic.
“Apprenticeships can help futureproof, motivate and diversify a workforce – offering people the chance to gain high-quality vocational skills. They are also crucial to our ambitious post-Covid economic recovery plans. That’s why we have committed to creating a further 125,000 all-age apprenticeship places over the next five years.
“We are a small country, but we have big ambitions, and our aim is to create a culture in Wales where recruiting an apprentice becomes the norm for employers.”
Report warns of “triple challenge” posed by Brexit, coronavirus and climate change
A new report warns Wales faces an unprecedented ‘triple challenge’ to health and wellbeing due to the cumulative impacts of Brexit, coronavirus and climate change.
The report published by Public Health Wales examines a range of factors that will be impacted by the three factors and highlights how this ‘triple challenge’ will have direct and indirect impacts on health behaviours of the population.
Liz Green, Consultant in Public Health, Policy and International Health at Public Health Wales, and one of the report’s authors, said: “The Coronavirus pandemic has revealed the complex, interwoven relationships between health, wellbeing, inequalities, the economy, the environment, and society as a whole. In doing so, it has created new inequalities, but also exacerbated existing health inequalities.
“Events such as the United Kingdom’s (UK) withdrawal from the European Union (EU) (‘Brexit’) and climate change are also having a cumulative impact on the Welsh population’s health and wellbeing.
“The UK’s recovery from the pandemic needs to consider, and interact seamlessly, with the UK’s exit from the EU. It must also consider how to develop national and local resilience and provide support to many vulnerable industries and communities that are also facing the increasing challenge of climate change and extreme weather events.
“Wales as a nation has to grapple with the multifaceted and evolutionary nature of Brexit, COVID-19 and climate change not only in isolation, but as a cumulative whole. This is further complicated by the fact that these are not static events and will ebb and flow over the short, medium and long term.
“In short, Wales and the UK are facing an unprecedented ‘Triple Challenge’ that must be tackled in a coordinated fashion – one which considers the future of the planet and its population and identifies solutions to the well-being and economic challenges which Brexit and COVID-19 have brought sharply into focus.”
Pembrokeshire paediatrics unit to remain closed until next year due to Covid
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
Children in Pembrokeshire with respiratory problems and acute medical needs will need to attend a hospital in Carmarthenshire until autumn next year because the Pembrokeshire-based paediatrics unit remains closed.
Hywel Dda University Health Board members have agreed to extend the current arrangement – brought in on a temporary basis in March 2020 – but acknowledged the anxiety it was causing further west.
Clinicians joined the meeting to say the current arrangement was the safest option and had their collective backing.
One frontline clinician at Withybush Hospital, Haverfordwest, said: “The problem we have had over the last 18 months is that children get stranded in the wrong hospital.
“It’s absolutely vital that we minimise the chance of that happening.”
He added: “Obviously if a sick child appears we will obviously do our very best. Children, with the best will in the world, should not come to Withybush for acute care.”
Withybush’s paediatric ambulatory care unit (PACU) was closed temporarily in March 2020 because the space it occupied was needed to separate Covid and non-Covid patients when the pandemic hit.
That space is said to still be required for this purpose, and the paediatric ambulatory care unit remains at Glangwili General Hospital, Carmarthen.
Paediatric provision remains unchanged at Bronglais General Hospital in Ceredigion.
After a long discussion about the increase in cases of a virus which causes bronchitis in children – predominantly the under fives – health board members decided to extend the current system.
This will include a review, starting next March, with the decision to be reconsidered by the board in autumn 2022.
Families which have been affected, along with patient watchdog the community health council, will be involved in the review.
In addition, support will given to parents who don’t have a car or who have to travel a long way to get to Glangwili, and new signs could be installed at Withybush explaining that emergency care is for adults only, but that youngsters with minor injuries will be seen.
Planned care for children will continue as normal at Withybush.
Dr Phil Kloer, the health board’s executive medical director, also said that children who were having trouble breathing could be anaesthetised at Withybush prior to being transported to Glangwili.
Mansell Bennett, chairman of the community health council, said it was good to see the existing arrangement had backing but said he was concerned about how long it would go on for.
He added that health council members had concerns about the effects on the Pembrokeshire population. He said a patient survey should be started now.
Dr Kloer acknowledged the proposal was a “significant” extension, but said the plan had been to start the review in March this year but that it hadn’t been possible because of the on-going pandemic.
Health board chairwoman Maria Battle said people wanted to know why there couldn’t be a PACU or paediatric cover at Withybush.
Dr Kloer said the space the unit had occupied at Withybush was still needed to manage the Covid and non-Covid flow of patients.
“There really is no other appropriate PACU space,” he said.
The virus, he said, spread easily between wards, and the third wave of the pandemic was in train.
Emergency and non-emergency transport for children and their families from Pembrokeshire to Glangwili was also discussed.
The report before the board said a new and faster way of assessing children who did arrive at Withybush – other than those with a minor injury – will be introduced in October.
Parents and carers in Pembrokeshire are asked not to delay seeking help if their child is un-well or injured.