News in brief: Tories call for use of cross border and independent facilities to cut NHS waiting times
The Welsh Conservatives have called on the government to use facilities in England and non-NHS providers to help clear the backlog of patients waiting for treatment in Wales.
Latest figures from the Welsh government show a record 568,367 people were on NHS waiting lists in March an increase of 24.4% in the last 12 months.
This morning Health and Social Services Minister Eluned Morgan set-out plans for a £100m investment to kick-start the health and care system’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic with the money targeted on recruiting additional staff, new equipment and introducing new ways of working to help reduce waiting times.
Responding to the announcement for the Tories, Vale of Clwyd MS, Gareth Davies accused the government of mismanagement and said the new money will only “scratch the surface”.
“Sadly, Covid-19 has exposed Labour’s historic mismanagement of our NHS, with underfunding and poor treatment of staff leaving our treasured service incredibly fragile,” he said.
“We entered the crisis with record waiting lists and cancer targets not met since 2008, and as we come out of the pandemic, a staggering 1 in 5 people in Wales are now stuck on a waiting list.
“This is causing unnecessary pain and discomfort for hundreds of thousands of people across the country and putting lives at risk, and whilst we welcome any investment to tackle the huge backlog, this injection of cash will only scratch the surface.
“We now need to see clear recovery plans developed and implemented for all areas of public health, utilising cross border and independent facilities to speed up treatment, so we can rebuild the NHS and treat people as quickly as possible.”
Under the government’s proposals:
£20 million will go to Betsi Cadwaldr health board to increase capacity in planned care, cancer, dental, diagnostics and endoscopy.
Aneurin Bevan will be allocated £17m for projects to increase capacity in planned care, diagnostics, therapies and mental health.
Swansea Bay gets £16m to increase capacity in a wide range of areas, including theatres, recruitment and ophthalmology.
Cwm Taf Morgannwg will receive £16m for recruitment and investment in surgical and diagnostic capacity.
Cardiff and Vale will receive £13m to increase capacity for a range of therapies and diagnostics, including staff recruitment and two new mobile theatres.
Hywel Dda is allocated £13m to improve capacity for planned care, including hospital redesign, investment in diagnostics.
Powys will get £2.5m to transform patient services and increase capacity for a range of services.
Velindre gets £2.5m to increase capacity for radiotherapy treatments.
“The remarkable commitment of our NHS and social care workers has helped us through this pandemic to a point where we can now start to think about the future. I am determined that we now provide them the support they need to help the service recover,” Eluned Morgan said.
“I am under no illusions about the size of the task ahead, but it is also important to recognise we now have a real opportunity to transform the delivery of health and care services.
“We must take this opportunity to create a health and care system that is fit for the future. The pandemic saw the early and swift adoption of new technology and ways of working, I want to see health boards build on this good work.”
First Minister warns the Covid pandemic has taken “an unexpected and worrying turn”
First Minister Mark Drakeford has described the pandemic as taking “an unexpected and worrying turn” following the recent surge in cases of the new Indian variant of Covid-19 and warned there is not yet clear evidence of the effectiveness of vaccines in combating the new mutation.
So far 25 cases have been recorded in Wales, in increase of 14 since last Thursday, while over 2,000 cases have been diagnosed in England, with the number of cases doubling every five to seven days.
“The emerging evidence suggests that this new variant may be more transmissible than the current dominant form of the virus—the Kent variant—which was responsible for the surge in cases in Wales at the start of the winter last year.” Mr Drakeford told the Senedd.
“As of today, there is still not yet enough evidence about the impact of the India variant on the vaccination efficiency or whether it causes more serious illnesses.
“We all hope, of course, that the vaccine will be protective against this new variant and others that may arise, and the science continues to investigate the position, and we will receive advice from our scientific advisers as that evidence becomes clearer.”
“In the meantime, it is really important that we continue to do everything we can to keep levels of the virus as low as possible in Wales as we continue to relax restrictions in a careful and cautious way. It is all those individual efforts that add up to the best and most effective way of responding to the emergence of new variants.”
Meanwhile, Public Health Wales has confirmed one further death due to Covid and 45 new positive tests in the last 24 hours.
The newly reported death was in the Hywel Dda health board area.
Eight local authorities reported no new cases while Cardiff recorded the highest number with eight.
Newport was next highest with six new infections and continues to have the highest weekly case rate at 29.7 per 100,000 people, unchanged from yesterday. The tests rate at 2.2% from 100,000 tests over the week is also the highest but has fallen from 2.3% over the last 24 hours.
The national case rate has declined from 9.6 to 9.4 and the test rate is unchanged at 1.0%.
Greens welcome support for Senedd expansion
Wales Green Party has welcomed Mark Drakeford’s endorsement of plans to increase the size of the Senedd but say an increase in members must be backed up by an electoral system that ensures seats are fairly distributed.
The First Minister said yesterday there was “growing enthusiasm” for a Welsh Parliament “fit to discharge its responsibilities”.
Last year, a report by Labour and Plaid members on a Senedd committee backed expanding the Senedd to 90 members, from the current 60.
“It is promising to see the First Minister supporting the call to expand the Senedd, to be more in line with the other devolved parliaments of the UK,” Anthony Slaughter, Wales Green Party leader said.
“The people of Wales deserve enough hands on-deck to properly do the job of running our country, but it’s also important that we have enough people to fully hold those who wield power to account. Running Wales is a big job, and you don’t get good value by cutting corners.
“However, expansion by itself is not enough. In order to ensure that the Senedd fairly represents all people across Wales, we must ensure these MSs are fairly distributed, and elected using a fair system ensuring all voices are heard.
“Across the border in England, we have a Prime Minister trying his best to destroy the democratic advances that have been made to serve his own interests – including efforts to make voting harder for people who tend not to support his party. Let’s choose a better path.
“Vibrant democracy is vital for a healthy society. We must not accept second-best – elections must be fair, proportional and truly representative of Wales.”
Both Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats back having a bigger Senedd, providing the required 40 seat majority to make changes, but the Conservatives oppose the move.
British Steel owner linked with Liberty Steel bid
The Chinese owner of British Steel is interested in buying Liberty Steel, according to press reports.
Liberty Steel is the UK’s third largest steel manufacturer but is fighting to survive the financial crisis surrounding owner Sanjeev Gupta’s GFG Alliance conglomerate.
Last week the UK Serious Fraud Office opened an investigation into suspected fraud, fraudulent trading and money laundering at GFG Alliance, including its relationship with Greensill Capital.
Greensill, the main source of finance for the GFG conglomerate, collapsed into administration two months ago and so far, Gupta has been unable to secure new backing.
Liberty Steel employs about 3,000 people across the UK, including over 200 at its plants in Newport and Tredegar.
According to the Financial Times, the Jingye Group, which acquired British Steel in 2019, has started preliminary talks with government officials and says it is willing to step in to take on parts of Liberty Steel if GFG fails to secure fresh funding.
JSW Steel, one of India’s largest steel groups, is also being linked with a possible buy out of Liberty Steel.
Swansea development unable to attract retail interest
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
Retail units at a multi-million redevelopment in Swansea are attracting virtually no interest and will remain empty unless other types of businesses like cafes or restaurants can move there, according to a developer.
Orchard House (Swansea) Ltd said that seven ground floor units with retail planning use at Orchard House, at the junction of Orchard Street and Bellevue Way, have been marketed for 18 months without success.
The company has applied to Swansea Council to expand planning uses for the units – although two of them do have existing tenants – to include food and drink premises, and also ventures such as clinics, nurseries, gyms and cinemas.
It said in a planning statement: “It is hoped the approval of this application would bring back these vacant commercial units back into beneficial use and improve footfall and the vitality, viability and vibrancy of Swansea city centre and complement both the day-time and evening economy.”
A letter from property consultants commissioned by Orchard House (Swansea) said no retail viewings had been carried out at the units over the last 18 months, despite extensive marketing.
Although this period largely dovetailed with the Covid pandemic, the letter from BP2 Property Consultants said the retail units were “unlettable” with their current use.
It said: “We do not foresee market conditions altering in favour of these uses in the near future.”
The letter said the situation would be different if the units had food and drink use in particular.
Individual change of use applications could be pursued, but BP2 Property Consultants said tenants were put off by the process and uncertainty about the outcome.
New-look Orchard House now has 52 flats above a first floor earmarked for offices and the commercial ground floor area below.
It is one of a number of developments which are changing the look of The Kingsway and Orchard Street corridor.
Swansea Council’s cabinet is assessing the business case for a major office development on The Kingsway at a meeting on May 20, and is also due to approve funding of up to £20 million for a new economic recovery fund, which aims to support local businesses post-Covid, among other things.
It has previously administered central Government hardship grants for businesses since the pandemic, and also spent £1.2 million to help hospitality operators buy outdoor furniture.