News in brief: Drivers warned of huge delays as DVLA dispute continues
Motorists are being warned that paper applications to renew driving licenses could face lengthy delays due to Covid restrictions and ongoing industrial action at the DVLA’s Swansea HQ.
Members of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) have been staging a series of strikes in response to what it says are “unsafe” working conditions during the pandemic.
Some 600 of the DVLA’s 6,000-strong workforce are reported to have had Covid, although the organisation says it has followed Government advice at every stage.
Last month the union claimed that 800,000 letters were waiting to be opened at the offices with a further 60,000 arriving each day and according to the DVLA there are currently around 1.4 million items waiting to be processed, more than three times the usual number.
The agency is urging motorists to use online services when possible and say “the have not been impacted by the pandemic and continue to run as normal and without any delays.”
“There are delays in processing paper applications due to ongoing industrial action and social distancing requirements, which means that we have had fewer staff than usual on site at any one time,” a DVLA spokesperson added.
“Paper applications are taking on average, between six and ten weeks to process but there may be longer delays for more complex transactions such as those that require medical investigations.
“It’s disappointing that the Public and Commercial Services Union is choosing to continue with industrial action and targeting services that will have the greatest negative impact on the public, including some of the more vulnerable people in society.
“As restrictions are easing and life is returning to normal, millions of people right across the UK, from those applying for their first provisional driving licence, to traders selling cars, are relying on essential DVLA services. PCS’s demands are causing significant and unnecessary disruption to families and businesses, all at a time when they are most needed.”
In July the PCS served notice of a further 4 weeks of targeted industrial action at the DVLA with members in the drivers medical group walking out from 2 to 31 August.
The drivers’ medical group is the department which decides whether drivers who have medical conditions are fit to drive safely, and the union said this latest action was chosen “due to its strategic importance to the agency and the fact that ministers are assigning huge importance to the backlogs in this area.”
The union claims a deal to end the dispute was agreed over two months ago but was scuppered following the intervention of the UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.
Delta variant cases in Wales top 15,000 mark
Public Health Wales has confirmed 1,981 new cases of the Delta Covid variant in the seven days up to 17 August, taking the total number of cases detected since May to 15,341.
This week’s figures are up on the from the 1,889 reported last week, which was a fall of 6% from the previous seven days.
Betsi Cadwaladr health board continues to be hardest hit by variant, recording 594 new infections, taking the total number of cases to 5,608, accounting for 37% of all the Delta cases in Wales.
Five of the six local authorities served by Betsi Cadwaladr have weekly case rates over 200 and Denbighshire has the highest rate in Wales at 379.3 per 100,000 people. The positivity rate is also the worst in the country at 19.4% per 100,000 tests.
Meanwhile, PHW has confirmed two further deaths due to Covid and 1,480 new cases of the virus in the last 24 hours.
The newly reported deaths were in the Aneurin Bevan and Swansea Bay health board areas and take the total number of deaths since the start of the pandemic to 5,647.
A total of 6,614 people tested positive for Covid in the seven days up to 14 August, raising the national case rate to 209.8, the highest level recorded since the middle of January.
NHS and social care system gets £550 million boost
The Welsh Government has announced over £550 million of additional funding is being allocated to the NHS and social care system to counter the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Over the last year NHS waiting times have jumped by over a third and new figures released by Stats Wales reveal that waiting times for mental health services waiting times have doubled.
The government says £411m of the new support will pay for the ongoing costs of dealing with the pandemic until April 2022 and £140m is allocated for recovery and tackling waiting times.
“The Covid pandemic has had a massive impact on the NHS and social services in Wales and is still facing significant costs in dealing with it. I am therefore pleased to confirm an extra £411m for these costs, including the vaccination programme, testing, PPE, and new cleaning standards for infection control,” Health Minister Eluned Morgan said.
“The knock-on effect from dealing with the pandemic has also been huge. Waiting lists have increased by more than 33% and are now at record levels. Getting back to where we were before the pandemic is going to take a lot of time and investment in new ways of working. So we are also providing an extra £140m to the NHS for this work.”
“£100m will be used to help health boards’ recovery plans, including speeding up the treatment of those who have been waiting the longest. While £40m is for equipment and adapting hospitals and other buildings to increase capacity for routine procedures, whilst maintaining Covid safe areas.”
“I recognise it is a huge task just to get back to where we were before the pandemic. However, we must also grasp this opportunity to adopt new ways of working and create a sustainable health and social care system that can meet the demands of the future, she added”
Welsh Conservative and Shadow Health Minister Russell George MS welcomed the new funding but said it was “well overdue”.
“It must not be forgotten that these very long waiting times were built up long before the pandemic and Labour’s failure to fix the roof while the sun was shining has led to hundreds of thousands of patients paying the price.”
“It is essential that this money does not run simply run out and there must be a long-term view to ensuring that we are not again in a position when one fifth of the population in Wales are expecting treatment”.
Plaid call for action to boost mental health provision as waiting times climb
Plaid Cymru have called for the Welsh Government to urgently increase mental health provision after new figures showed that waiting times for a first appointment have dramatically increased over the past year.
Plaid’s spokesperson for health and care Rhun ap Iorwerth MS said that the pandemic had exacerbated mental health issues and that “quick access” to mental health services should be a priority.
“The pandemic has taken a dramatic toll on the mental health of so many of us. Quick access to mental health services has to be a priority for this Government, now more than ever, he said.
“It is astonishing that waiting times for mental health services have increased once again with the number of patients waiting over 4 weeks for their first appointment doubling in just a year.
“We know that access to mental health provision was already seriously lacking before the pandemic and whilst Covid-19 may have added to the challenges, this is not a new problem. Without a serious gear change we will be facing a mental health crisis in the middle of a public health crisis. This is unacceptable, it is having a detrimental effect on people’s wellbeing and quality of life and must be addressed urgently.
“The Welsh Government either needs to increase provision of this service or provide signposts to the alternative services that are available,” he added.
“We must have robust provision in place so that patients can receive the best possible treatment at the earliest opportunity, before their situation worsens, as we have seen all too often. It should also be providing more detail on what it is doing for this ‘missing middle’ of young people who need support with their mental health, but who are deemed not ill enough to require advanced psychiatric treatment.”
“Plaid Cymru has already proposed a network of mental health hubs across Wales, and we again extend an offer to Welsh Government to work with us in making this a reality.
Farmers urged to apply for £2m business grant fund
Farmers are being urged to submit an expression of interest for the next round of the government’s Farm Business Grant which will open on 1 September.
A budget of £2m will be available for farmers to invest in new technology and equipment to improve their technical, financial and environmental performance.
The expression of interest window runs from 1 September to 1 October and successful applicants will have four months to purchase and claim for the items supported.
The budget allocated to this round of the Farm Business Grant comes from funds remaining within the Rural Development Programme.
“I would urge farmers with an interest to start thinking now of the improvements they want to make and how the grant could help them, so they are able to put in a strong expression of interest within the timescales and which meets their needs” Minister for Rural Affairs Lesley Griffiths said.