News in brief: Health chief says Covid infection rates in Wales are ‘heading in the right direction’
Wales’ chief medical officer says there are early signs of a fall in the number of new Covid cases across the country.
Speaking at today’s press briefing, Dr Frank Atherton said: “The situation remains very serious and we are still dealing with the added factor of the new, highly-contagious strain of the virus.
“However, over the course of the last few days, we have seen a small fall in the overall levels of the virus in most parts of Wales.”
With the number of positive tests dropping from 25% to 20% in the last week, he added: “This is heading in the right direction but is still too high and shows that there’s still a lot of coronavirus circulating in the community.”
At the same briefing, Dr Andrew Goodall, Chief Executive of NHS, cautioned that despite the number of cases declining, there is concern that the new variant of the virus that spreads more rapidly, could have a significant impact on the trajectory.
Dr Goodall expressed particular fears about the situation in north Wales, where the number of people hospitalised with COVID-19 has doubled since Boxing Day and said: “I think this winter will be the most challenging I and other NHS staff will have experienced.
“Welsh Government has put in place a number of interventions through December and pre-Christmas, which have perhaps allowed for us to have some impact and some evidence that things are starting to improve.
“If I look at the confirmed cases, actually they have both stabilised and perhaps even reduced a little bit.
“It still remains very challenging and very busy, and I think one of our worries for January is wherever we are, if the new variant has traction, we will potentially see further increases happening.”
Covid death toll in Wales reaches 4,000
Public Health Wales has reported 66 further deaths with coronavirus and 1,533 new positive tests for the virus in the last 24 hours.
Over 4,000 people in Wales have now died due to COVID-19 since the first fatality in March last year.
Cwm Taf Morgannwg reported 21 deaths, the highest number in Wales, followed by Aneurin Bevan (11). Betsi Cadwaladr and Swansea Bay both recorded 10 deaths and there were eight in Cardiff and Vale and six in the Hywel Dda health board area.
Wrexham (187) had most new cases since yesterday and has recorded 1,320 new cases over the last week. Cardiff reported 176 and there were 121 in Flintshire.
The weekly case rate in Wrexham is the worst in the country at 970.9 per 100,000 people, up from 853.2 yesterday, with Flintshire second highest at 710.4. It also has the highest weekly proportion of positive tests at 30.9% per 100,000 tests.
Meanwhile, latest figures from the Office for National Statistics have confirmed 5,169 deaths in Wales since the start of the pandemic.
The latest weekly figures for the week ending 1 January recorded 310 deaths due to the virus, up from 378 the previous week.
The total number of deaths for the week from all causes decreased from 825 to 727, 209 deaths (40.3%) higher than the five-year average.
Deaths due to coronavirus made up over 42% of all deaths in Wales dover the seven days covered by the study.
Deaths counted by the ONS are when COVID-19 is mentioned by doctors on the death certificate and which occur in all settings – including hospitals, care homes, hospices and people’s homes.
The daily figures released by Public Health Wales only include the deaths of a hospital patients or care home resident where COVID-19 has been confirmed with a positive laboratory test and the clinician suspects this was a causative factor in the death.
According to PHW’s latest figures there have been 4,064 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
Health watchdog says ‘serious concerns’ remain over running of private mental health hospital
Liam Randall, local democracy reporter
A HEALTH watchdog has said that “serious concerns” remain over the running of a private mental health hospital in Wrexham.
Health Inspectorate Wales (HIW) has issued a second damning report regarding Ty Grosvenor, which provides care for up to 34 men and women with mental health conditions.
Inspectors paid a surprise visit to the independent hospital in July last year, which resulted in it being flagged as a service of concern after officials found safety risks were not being monitored properly.
A follow up inspection was carried out in October to check whether improvements were being made, with restrictions in place on new admissions.
However, inspectors said there were major issues still to be addressed after their findings were recently made public.
Elysium Healthcare Ltd, which runs the facility, said it accepted their recommendations and had taken on new senior staff to raise standards.
In their report, HIW officials said: “Overall we remain not assured that the registered provider had adequate systems and processes in place to ensure patients were receiving effective and safe care.
“Following up on actions from our previous visit, we noted Brenig ward had made some improvements in relation to patient care plans and risk assessments.
“However, the learning had not filtered to Alwen ward, where we identified similar failings as those we found in July.
“Issues regarding care plans found in July 2020 were again identified on this inspection.
“Care plans for some patients with identified risks did not have sufficient detail in them to ensure these were being managed appropriately.
“Some of the care plan audits reviewed were of a poor quality because they lacked detail.”
Since their last visit, the inspectors said staffing numbers had improved at the hospital on Grosvenor Road, which opened in 2018.
But they raised outstanding concerns about a lack of staff meetings and supervision, as well as lapsed staff appraisals.
They added: “Following the visit HIW held a service of concern review meeting where it decided, due to the findings of the follow up visit, that a non-compliance notice should be issued and that Ty Grosvenor would remain a service of concern.
“In addition, due to the serious concerns identified within this report, a decision was made to issue a notice of decision to impose a condition preventing new admissions at Ty Grosvenor until HIW are satisfied that our concerns have been actioned.”
They said they had received assurances since the inspection that appropriate action was being taken but would be monitoring the service closely.
A spokesman for Elysium Healthcare said: “The safety and wellbeing of our patients remains our highest priority and we always welcome the scrutiny that comes from our partners at the Healthcare Inspectorate Wales.
“We accept the findings of this report and have already implemented a quality improvement action plan.
“The work on this has been led by a new senior quality assurance team member. We have also appointed a new hospital director to lead the service going forward.
“We will continue to improve the quality of the service on an ongoing basis and ensure it is fully embedded across all of the wards.”
First projects benefit from £10 million broadband fund
The first projects to benefit from Welsh Government’s £10 million Local Broadband Fund have been announced today by Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport Lee Waters.
Local authorities and social enterprises can bid for funding to help bring fast and reliable broadband to communities with poor connection.
The first projects to benefit from the support are:
- Llanthony Valley, Monmouthshire: hybrid fibre / wavelength backhaul solution to bring better connections to the area. The valley has 122 premises 30 per cent of which are businesses in this popular tourist area. It is currently one of the most poorly connected areas in the county.
- Monmouthshire County Council scheme to build mixed wireless and fibre optic access network capable of delivering speeds of between 50Mbs and 1Gbs across Monmouthshire to digitally deprived communities. It will also support the Welsh Government’s 5G testbed project which aims to connect rural communities in Monmouthshire and semi urban communities in Blaenau Gwent.
- Michaelston y Fedw Internet Community Interest company: since 2018 the company has provided 240 fibre to premises and connections to rural properties which previously struggled to obtain a useable broadband service. Currently all active equipment is installed in a shipping container in Michaelston y Fedw. The funding will contribute towards a secure data centre and fibre cables from that centre, which would also provide opportunity for future expansion to more premises.
“The Local Broadband Fund allows local authorities to nominate particular schemes which will specifically target communities where there are issues with slow speeds and poor mobile signal. I’m pleased today to announce the first three schemes to benefit from this funding. This will deliver a real difference to those communities,” Mr Walters said.
“I look forward to making more announcements over the next few months and will be working with local authorities to identify the communities and schemes which would have the most to gain from this fund.”
The next stage of the fund is currently open for applications and is due to close on 28 January
Plans for surgical mask workshop in Pontardawe
Hannah Neary, local democracy reporter
An engineering company is planning to establish a factory in Pontardawe to produce face masks over the next two years.
Swansea-based Brother Engineering wants to retain the use of porta-cabins at the former bus depot site on Tawe Terrace, Pontardawe, where it has been making surgical masks since June.
The firm produces masks for the NHS, care sector and wider public sector under the name Blu Thomas Medical.
There are currently three members of staff making face masks at the Pontardawe site but the firm hopes to increase the number of staff to 20 in total.
Brother Engineering installed the cabins on the site last summer after the Welsh Government gave them £250,000 to produce masks in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, the company had not been given the necessary planning permission to build the structures on the site, which it acquired in February 2016.
The firm has also been using a workshop on the site for precision engineering works since August 2016 but did not have planning permission to do this either.
A document by planning agent Robert Bowen Planning and Development Ltd states the firm did not realise they needed planning permission to use the workshop. It also says they had followed advice by the Westminster Government stating planning permission was not necessary for installing the cabins.
In December, company director Blu Thomas submitted a planning application to Neath Port Talbot Council asking its permission to keep using the engineering workshop and and porta-cabins to make surgical masks for a period of two years.
In the same month, Blu Thomas Medical became Wales’ first mask manufacturer to gain regulatory approval to supply products to NHS Wales.
Council planning officers are currently assessing the firm’s planning application. The deadline for the application to be determined is Sunday February 07.