News in brief: New probe launched into Welsh-built tank programme
The ill-fated Ajax armoured vehicle programme is facing a full value-for-money audit from Westminster’s spending watchdog.
The vehicle is assembled by General Dynamics Land Systems UK (GDLSUK) in Merthyr Tydfil, which employs a staff of 700, but its future has been thrown into doubt due to design flaws which have caused concerns that noise and excessive vibration were causing health issues for the tank’s crews.
There have also been reports that the vehicles cannot fire their cannon while on the move, a claim General Dynamics denies.
According to the Financial Times, the National Audit Office will probe four armoured-vehicle programmes, including the Ajax project, and will look at “systemic issues” in management at the Ministry of Defence, with a report expected to be published in March next year.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) signed a contract for 589 of the Ajax armoured vehicles in 2014 and has already spent nearly £3.5bn on the project.
So far 26 vehicles have been handed over to the MOD but none have yet entered service.
Due to problems with excessive vibration and the resulting high levels of noise, the army placed an operation limit inside the tank of one hour 30 minutes and restricted its speed to 20 miles per hour, less than half its top speed during testing.
Last month Minister for Defence (MoD) Procurement Jeremy Quin confirmed that 310 personnel would be offered assessments for hearing loss and joint problems.
He said: “The health of our service personnel is our top priority. The Army continues to identify and monitor the hearing of all personnel exposed to noise on Ajax, with additional testing put in place where required. The Army is also in the process of identifying any health effects in those potentially exposed to vibration.”
In March, the programme was the subject of a damning report by the Defence Select Committee which stated there was little to show for the billions already spent.
The report stated: “The Ajax programme, which is now also seriously delayed, is yet another ex-ample of chronic mismanagement by the Ministry of Defence and its shaky procurement apparatus.
“This is particularly worrying, as Ajax is fundamental to the establishment and deployment of the Army’s new Strike Brigades, which are intended to be a key part of its future order of battle.
“Some commentators have raised doubts about the suitability of the Ajax vehicle in a reconnaissance role, specifically regarding its weight and size and ability to deploy rapidly as they were ‘anything but stealthy and agile’.”
Last month Labour shadow defence minister, John Healey MP described the Ajax programme as being “on end-of-life watch.”
General Dynamics said in September that all six variants of the Ajax vehicles were in full production and that 116 vehicles had been built and either been delivered or were in the process of being handed over to the MOD.
All 12-15-years-olds to be offered Covid jabs by the end of October
Health Minister Eluned Morgan has confirmed that all 12-15-year-olds in Wales will be offered a Covid jab by the end of the October half-term.
Some of the most vulnerable 12 to 15-year-olds have already started receiving the vaccine and all health boards will have started rolling out the programme this week.
There has been a spike in the number of children and young adults testing positive for Covid since schools returned from the summer break and over the last seven days almost half of the new cases recorded in Wales were young people under 19.
“Vaccines remain our strongest defence from the virus, helping prevent harm and stopping the spread of COVID-19. Some studies have shown show one in seven children who have been infected with the virus are thought to have also developed long-Covid,” the minister said.
“We have provided resources and information to help this age group make an informed choice about vaccination. I encourage parents, guardians, children and young people to discuss the vaccination together.”
All 12 to 15-year-olds will be invited by letter to have the vaccine and the majority will be administered at mass vaccination centres, however in some areas vaccinations will also be carried out in schools.
Meanwhile, Public Health Wales has reported 17 further deaths due to Covid-19 and 3,986 new cases of the virus over the 48 hours to 9am on Sunday morning.
Ten of the newly recorded deaths were in the Cwn Taf Morgannwg health board area, as the total number of deaths since the start of the pandemic in March 2020 increased to 5,934.
Hywel Dda health board recorded three further deaths over the early part of the weekend and there were two reported in Aneurin Bevan and one in both Powys and Swansea Bay.
In the seven days up to 29 September 17,638 people have tested positive for the virus in Wales, taking the weekly case rate to 559.4 per 100,000 people, a fall of over 50 points since Friday as the rate went down for a fifth successive day.
Neath Port Talbot continues to have the highest rate in the UK at 739.6 but is down from 865.2 since yesterday’s report.
Welsh Government criticised for delays to the introduction of E-prescribing
The government has been criticised for the slow introduction of E-prescribing to the Welsh NHS following the announcement last week by Health Minister Eluned Morgan that they will be phased in across all healthcare settings in Wales within the next three to five years.
The minister revealed that paper prescriptions and ‘wet’ signatures will be replaced by electronic prescriptions and electronic signatures in primary care and in hospitals, an electronic platform for prescriptions will be introduced, alongside electronic drug charts.
Under the proposals, patients will also be able to digitally order repeat prescriptions through an NHS Wales app.
Responding to the announcement, Rhun ap Iorwerth, criticised what he described as the government’s “lacklustre effort” in implementing E-prescribing across the NHS in Wales and of lagging behind both England and Scotland where digital prescriptions are already in place.
“I was excited last week to see that the Government had made an announcement on e-prescribing however, much to my disappointment – given that we’re now 21 years into the twenty-first century – we were told that the Health Minister hoped to make the move from paper prescriptions in the next 3 – 5 years! Given that the idea was first introduced by Welsh Government fifteen years ago, we must move quicker to create more sustainable health and care services that fit in the digital age that we live in,” Mr ap Iorwerth said:
“The pandemic has demonstrated how services can move quickly and introduce change quickly, when theres is leadership and political will present. It has also clearly highlighted the inefficiencies of paper-based prescribing – we’re being told repeatedly by medical professionals that it’s holding the health service back. One GP tells me that they have 4,000 weekly repeat prescriptions to sign, and that this impacts the time they have to see patients.
“Staff have had enough, and patients are suffering as a result. This is why I asked for an unambiguous commitment from the Minister to provide the same political will into introducing e-prescribing as soon as possible. Five years is a very long time, and in the digital age, it’s a lifetime.”
Last week’s announcement followed a Welsh government independent review of e-prescribing in Wales, which was commissioned in 2020 and concluded in April this year.
Injury-hit Wales call up duo for World Cup qualifiers
Wales have called up Cardiff City’s Will Vaulks and Swansea’s Ben Cabango for the World Cup qualifiers against Czech Republic and Estonia.
They replace Sheffield United’s Rhys Norrington-Davies and Luton Town’s Tom Lockyer who were forced to withdraw from the squad due to injury.
Vaulks returns to the squad for the first time in a year after missing out on selection for the Euro 2020 finals and the opening World Cup qualifiers
Cabango was omitted from boss Robert Page’s original squad after missed the last round of qualifiers in September due to Covid-19.
Juventus midfielder Aaron Ramsey, who missed the games against Finland, Belarus and Estonia has linked up with the squad despite missing the last two club matches with “muscle fatigue” but skipper Gareth Bale faces a lengthy spell out with what is described as a “significant” hamstring injury.
Wales are currently in third place in the group, nine points behind leaders Belgium and play Czech Republic in Prague on Friday, followed by another away qualifier against Estonia next Monday.
Power plant to be taken offline for major repairs to take placeA power station in north Wales will be undergo a major maintenance programme over the next three years which will see it taken offline for several months while essential repairs are carried out.
One of the six inlet valves at the Dinorwig hydro-electric plant failed in September last year and its replacement will require a full drain-down of the hydraulic systems.
There had been fears the plant built inside the Elidir mountain could be closed for up to two years for maintenance but David Alcock, chief executive officer of Energy Infrastructure UK, ENGIE, has denied this and says work will be carried out in phases.
In a letter to Arfon MP Hywel Williams and Arfon MS Sian Gwenllian, he wrote: “The immediate concern is the replacement of the main inlet valve on Dinorwig Unit 1 following its failure in September last year. As replacement of this single valve will require a full drain-down of the hydraulic system, and an extensive full station outage, we are intending to take the opportunity to replace the main inlet valves of other units as they are nearing end of useful life.”
Revealing repairs will be carried out in two phases with two valves being replaced in 2023 and the remaining four valves in 2025, each requiring a station outage of some months, Mr Alcock added:
“There are no anticipated job losses resulting from replacement of the main inlet valves, and it is of course important to the company that we retain engineering and technical expertise. We envisage that Dinorwig will, with appropriate investment, have value to the UK power system for many years to come and the main inlet valve work is a necessary precursor to the wider refurbishment of the power station.”
“Our intention to take the station out of service has been flagged to the Electricity System Operator, so that they can make provision for managing the power system during the outage.”
While work takes place on the site it has also been confirmed that underground tours of the plant will be cancelled due to health and safety concerns.