News in brief: Minister claims vaccine programme is ‘on track’ after surge in jabs
Health Minister Vaughan Gething has confirmed that close to 9% of the population in Wales has now received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine and says the government’s programme is “on track” to meet the target of vaccinating the top four priority groups by mid-February.
Public Health Wales confirmed earlier that 270,833 people have received their first jab since the rollout of the vaccine started on 8 December and 543 have also received a second dose.
Over the last week Wales has overtaken Scotland and Northern Ireland in the proportion of people vaccinated and is just behind England, where 9.8% have received the jab so far.
Speaking at today’s coronavirus briefing, he said there had been a “sharp acceleration” in the number of vaccines given as supplies have increased, with an extra 24,000 vaccines delivered over the weekend.
“We have opened more vaccine centres and GPs practices around Wales,” Mr Gething added.
“This week, all 16 GP practices in Powys will start vaccinating people.
“The first three community vaccination centres opened at the weekend in north Wales and Bridgend to provide vaccines for 3,000 people. We are continuing to develop this model.”
Reporting 8.7% of the population have been vaccinated in just seven weeks he said, “Vaccination is our number one priority.
“We are doing everything we can to make sure people get the vaccine as quickly as possible”.
Mr Gething had been under pressure to meet the target of vaccinating 70% of over-80s in Wales by yesterday but told reporters the data wouldn’t be available until later in the week.
“We don’t have all the data back from the vaccination centres and GP practices around Wales to say whether we have reached the 70% figure.
“Many worked through the weekend to vaccinate people. What you are doing for the future of our country is incredible.
“We will know in the next day or so if we have reached 70%. We do know that more than 70% of care home workers have been vaccinated.”
Despite the sharp acceleration of the vaccination rollout over the last week, the minister warned we are unlikely to see much in the way of an easing of lockdown restrictions when the First Minister announces the outcome of the government’s latest three-week review on Friday.
“No one should expect a significant unlocking of the current lockdown measures,” he said, before urging people to “be patient and still do the right thing”.
Meanwhile, A further 23 people have died with Covid-19 in Wales and 872 new cases of the virus have been confirmed in the latest update from Public Health Wales.
Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board area in south Wales has seen the highest number of Covid deaths since yesterday’s report, with nine and there were six more deaths in Aneurin Bevan.
Betsi Cadwaladr and Hywel Dda both recorded three and Swansea Bay and Cardiff and Vale health boards both recorded one further death.
Cardiff (118) had the highest number of new cases, followed by Wrexham (70) and Flintshire (64).
Wrexham also has the highest weekly case rate in Wales at 551.6 per 100,000 people, with Flintshire next highest with 413.8.
Wrexham (23.2%) and Flintshire (21.8%) are also the only two areas in the country with a positive test proportion over 20% per 100,000 tests.
Welsh Government confirms support for struggling sports
The Welsh Government has unveiled £17.7 million of support for sport in Wales.
The Spectator Sports Survival Fund is intended to help the sector meet the challenges arising from the coronavirus pandemic and has been designed to provide immediate financial support for spectator sports through the remainder of the winte.
Since the start of the pandemic and following the introduction of nationwide measures to control the spread of the virus, spectator sports across Wales came to a halt as venues, activities, competitions and events were closed, cancelled or postponed.
The new funding package reflects the outcome of an analysis and impact assessment of sports based on an assumption that spectators are unlikely to return in any significant numbers before the summer.
Rugby Union will get £13.5 million of support, over 75% of the total available, while the second highest recipient is football with £1.5m.
Horseracing will receive £1.2 m, followed by Cricket, £1m. £200,000 for both Ice hockey and Rugby League, and £100,000 for Netball.
Announcing the package, Dafydd Elis-Thomas MS, Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism said: “Sport is important for our economy and for our mental and physical wellbeing. It will play a vital role in our recovery and healing after the pandemic and help us to develop a healthier and resilient nation as well as providing hope and inspiration from Welsh sporting success at home and abroad.”
MS calls for free data for disadvantaged pupils during lockdown.
Leanne Wood MS has written to the First Minister to call for free unlimited data to be provided to all pupils in Wales that need it during the lockdown and said it is vital that every child has a device and internet access if they are not to fall behind their peers.
In England, BT has teamed up with the Department of Education to ensure families and carers supporting children without internet access will get unlimited data until the end of the academic year.
In the letter to Mark Drakeford, the MS for the Rhondda wrote: “Given that a full lockdown will be lasting for weeks (and potentially months), I am concerned about the digital divide that exists in Wales; in both access to broadband and access to devices.
‘I know that your government has allocated money to provide devices to some households – and that charities have done some great work in this area – but nearly 12 months after the first lockdown, I am still coming across people in the Rhondda without access to devices and internet in their homes.
‘I have no doubt this is the case across Wales. This is unfair and will only serve to exacerbate the link between poor attainment and poverty in Wales.”
After being contacted by a secondary school teacher to say that one of their pupils told them she was unable to join future live lessons as she had “spent all her Christmas money on data,” Ms Wood said: “It is heart breaking to hear that children are still going without access to both devices and the internet. Unless something is done soon, these children will be left behind and that is not fair.
“Kids should not be having to spend their Christmas money on extra data to keep up with their classmates like in the example that was brought to my attention this week. Enough is enough. We need swift action from this Labour Government on this matter.”
New Conservative leader appoints shadow cabinet
Following his appointment yesterday morning, Welsh Conservative Leader in the Senedd, Andrew RT Davies, announced his new shadow cabinet.
He replaces Paul Davies as leader after he resigned on Saturday following allegations that he and other politicians drank alcohol on Welsh Parliament premises, days after the ban on serving drinks in pubs took effect last month.
MS Darren Millar, who was also involved, has also said that he is stepping down from his frontbench role.
The new cabinet is:
- Shadow Minister for Finance, North Wales and Chief Whip – Mark Isherwood MS
- Shadow Minister for Health and Social Services – Angela Burns MS
- Shadow Minister for Economy, Transport and Mid Wales – Russell George MS
- Shadow Minister for Education, Skills and Welsh Language – Suzy Davies MS
- Shadow Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs – Janet Finch-Saunders MS
- Shadow Minister for Housing and Local Government, Equalities, Children and Young People – Laura Anne Jones MS
- Shadow Minister for Mental Health, Wellbeing, Culture and Sport – David Melding MS
“I’m pleased to have moved quickly this afternoon and announced my Welsh Conservative Shadow Cabinet, which is built on the strong foundations of experience, talent and vision,” the new leader said.
“We are in a moment like no other, and the COVID-19 pandemic has sadly only served to shine a spotlight on the challenges in people’s everyday lives; challenges that have been made all the harder by twenty years of Welsh Labour Government failure.
“We shouldn’t doubt our country’s potential. Wales is full of ambitious people and communities that crave the opportunity to succeed, but successive Labour governments have held us back.
“Welsh Conservatives want to get Wales moving and unleash our country’s potential and we’ll be putting that vision forward to the people on May 6th.”
Mental health boss allays fears over treatment of patients in unit called “unfit for purpose” by health watchdog
Jez Hemming, local democracy reporter
Mental health patients in a building labelled “unfit for purpose” by a health watchdog will be safe despite outline planning permission being denied for its “flagship” replacement.
A £64m replacement for Ysbyty Glan Clwyd’s Ablett mental health unit in Bodelwyddan would have contained 64 beds and taken inpatients from Colwyn Bay’s Bryn Hesketh unit.
Despite Betsi Cadwaladr launching a full public consultation on the plans it misjudged the strength of feeling among residents of nearby Ffordd Parc y Castell, who complained proposals for the two and three storey building would affect their privacy and visual amenity.
Earlier this month Denbighshire council’s planning committee agreed and refused outline planning permission for the new unit, which would have included a new multi-storey car park and turned the old unit into an admin block.
Healthcare Inspectorate Wales (HIW) was critical of conditions on the unit in reports dating back to 2014.
In its 2018 study of the Ablett, HIW chief executive Dr Kate Chamberlain said: “We identified a number of issues that, taken together, we believe represent a risk to patient safety.”
Then director of mental health, Andy Roach, said the board were “fully aware” of the “structural issues” on the unit and said plans were being drawn up for a “significant redevelopment programme” – the one rejected by councillors this month.
Teresa Owen, Betsi’s current director of mental health, said staff were continuing to “do everything they can to provide safe and effective care for patients” despite the “well documented” problems with the building.
She said: “We have taken a range of actions to mitigate the risk to patient safety, including employing more staff than would normally be required for a unit of this size and spending more than £1m in recent years to improve ward environments.
“Providing safe and effective care to patients at the Ablett Unit has become much more challenging during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“This further underlines the need for significant investment in a modern and fit for purpose replacement for the current building that enables our staff to deliver the highest standards of care.
“Following the decision from Denbighshire council’s planning committee, we will be considering our next steps in the coming weeks, and of course we will continue to work in partnership on our plans.”
The Ablett Unit was the home of Tawel Fan ward, which gained notoriety after a 2015 report by Donna Ockenden labelled the treatment of dementia patients there “institutional abuse”. The unit had been closed down in 2013 over the allegations of mistreatment.
In another report published in July 2018, she said mental health in North Wales was a “Cinderella Service” and was the victim of “wholly inappropriate and significantly flawed” leadership since Betsi Cadwaladr’s formation in 2009.
The board brought in private consultants the Health and Social Care Advisory Service (HASCAS) at a cost of more then £2m to do a second report and, despite echoing many of the first report’s findings, came to the conclusion there was no “institutional abuse” there.
Chief officer of patient advocate and independent watchdog North Wales Community Health Council (CHC), Geoff Ryall-Harvey, was unimpressed the unit’s development had been put back.
He said: “I’m extremely disappointed that we are not moving on with this urgently needed project.
“I think it’s vital that Betsi consults again with local residents to resolve the issues.
“The CHC has been concerned about the quality of the Ablett for some years and that’s as a result of our regular visiting.”