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News in brief: Minister warns of ‘extraordinary’ challenges facing NHS in Wales

31 Dec 2020 7 minutes Read
Welsh Health Minister Vaughan Gething. Picture by Davmay48 (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Health Minister Vaughan Gething has warned of the growing pressure on the NHS in Wales due to the recent surge of covid infections and hit back at critics of the restrictions the government has put in place in to try to control the pandemic and claims that hospital capacity issues are being overstated.

According to figures released today by NHS Wales, more than a third of patients in hospital are being treated for COVID-19 and several health boards across Wales have had to cancel non-urgent services this month as hospitals struggle to cope with high patient numbers and staff sickness, while the current number of beds occupied in hospitals across Wales has risen above the peak in the initial wave of the pandemic in April.

The minister also revealed figures from the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre, that show that in Wales nearly 40 per cent of covid patients requiring critical care treatment since 1 September have died.

On the cusp of the new year, Mr Gething warned in a statement to the Senedd: “The coming weeks will be an extraordinary challenge for our health and social care services. We would not normally expect to face a winter with more than 2,600 beds out of use for normal winter pressures because of a new condition that we still cannot cure.

“We would not normally face a winter with the level of staff shortages in health and social care that we do face right across Wales. And yet still there are well-placed loud and angry voices who deny the problem, who claim that the cure cannot be worse than the virus.

“Let me remind you that this is a virus to which more than 3,000 of our people have already lost their lives. More will do so. Many will recover, but it will not be easy or quick for every person that does. There is no harm-free route through this crisis, and I do not accept that the cure is worse than the virus. Each and every choice that we take to keep Wales safe comes at a very real cost to protect our NHS and to save lives.

‘Difficult’

“NHS organisations will continue to work collectively to provide mutual support to one another, but the available bed capacity is reducing. We continue to see this translate into critical care pressure in all of our health boards. As a result, health boards have had to reduce or stop a range of non-covid services in order to cope. These are difficult decisions that are never taken lightly.”

Highlighting an increase of 24% in patients in critical care since 21 December, Mr Gething added: “This rate of growth is inevitably linked to the higher community prevalence of recent weeks and is a significant concern within our overall hospital capacity, and this is likely to increase over the next two weeks.

“This is the highest number of COVID-19 critical care patients we have seen in the second wave, although still lower than the peak of the first wave. However, including non-covid patients, yesterday there were a total of 210 critical care patients in beds across Wales. This is well in excess of our normal capacity of 152 patients, or, to put it another way, critical care is operating at nearly 140 per cent of normal capacity. In parts of Wales, staffing pressures, including sickness, are reducing our options to expand further.”

“…it is despairing and dishonest to claim that there is lots of unused critical care capacity. I have to reiterate to Members and the public that using critical care surge capacity comes at a real cost. Staff have to be transferred from other activity that cannot go ahead. Delaying or cancelling non-covid care stores up harm that our NHS will have to return to and, sadly, harm that our NHS may not have the opportunity to resolve.”

A further 65 people have died due to coronavirus and 1,831 new cases of the virus have been confirmed in Public Health Wales’ last update of the year.

Both Aneurin Bevan and Swansea Bay health board areas recorded 14 deaths since yesterday’s report.

There were 11 deaths in both Hywel Dda and Cwm Taf Morgannwg and six were reported in Betsi Cadwaladr.

The highest number of new cases in Wales were in Cardiff, where 203 people tested positive for the virus since yesterday. Rhondda Cynon Taf reported 176 new cases and there were 167 in Bridgend

Bridgend has the highest weekly infection rate in Wales at 825.6 per 100,000 people, down from 841.2 yesterday. It also has the highest proportion of positive tests for the virus over the week at 32.2% per 100,000 tests, up from 30.4% yesterday.

Vaccination

Shadow minister says north Wales is missing out on vaccine allocation 

Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Covid-19 Recovery and Clwyd West Member of the Senedd, Darren Millar MS, has raised concerns over whether north Wales is receiving a fair share of COVID-19 vaccines.

According to Public Health Wales, as of 20 December, just 2,544 people living in the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board area had been vaccinated, compared to 4,264 in the Cardiff and the Vale University Health Board area, which has a smaller population.

“The most recent figures from Public Health Wales seem to demonstrate that people in Cardiff are more than two and a half times more likely to have been given the Covid vaccine than people in North Wales, and people in Powys are four times more likely to have been vaccinated. This is unacceptable and must be addressed,” Mr Millar said.

“Given the approval of the new Oxford vaccine, which is manufactured in North Wales, the Welsh Government must now ramp up the rollout of immunisations, make sure that the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board gets its fair share of doses and ensure that those at highest risk of harm from COVID-19 are able to access their jabs as soon as possible.”

Number 10 The Circle before the renovation work. Photo by gwallter is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

 Historic building linked to birth of the NHS renovated

The birthplace of the NHS in Tredegar has been revitalised as a community hub thanks to support from the Welsh Government’s Transforming Towns programme.

Number 10 The Circle was once home to the Tredegar Medical Aid Society, used as the blueprint for the creation of the National Health Service in 1948 by Aneurin Bevan.

Number 10 The Circle received over £142,000 in Transforming Towns funding, alongside £240,000 of funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund through the Tredegar Townscape Heritage Initiative and Coalfields Regeneration Trust (CRT).

The renovation, which has taken three years, will see the building used for educational classes, training, seminars, meetings, and includes a heritage centre which will tell the story of the building and the NHS.

will provide a place where people can work, learn and celebrate the heritage of Tredegar and the National Health Service

Hannah Blythyn, Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government said: “This small but important building pioneered health care as we know it today. This year more than ever, we should celebrate the role a Welsh town played in helping inspire this vitally important service.”

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