News in brief: Transmission of Covid-19 in Welsh hospitals reaches levels last seen in April

Royal Glamorgan Hospital

Covid-19 transmission within hospitals in Wales have risen to the highest level since the middle of April according to the latest figures from Public Health Wales.

Over the week ending 25 October there have been 192 cases linked to hospital outbreaks, with the largest number of new cases in Swansea Bay where numbers have more than doubled in a week to 59 “probable” and “definite” cases.

Infections are continuing to rise at Aneurin Bevan (52) and Cwm Taf Morgannwg (50) and there were also 16 cases in Hywel Dda.

Earlier today figures from the Office for National Statistics also confirmed another 12 deaths linked to hospital infections in the Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board area, bringing the total so far to 69 at its three general hospitals in Llantrisant, Merthyr Tydfil and Bridgend.

Overall, Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board has reported now 366 cases linked to outbreaks at the three general hospitals and community hospitals in Rhondda and Maesteg.

Welsh Conservative health spokesperson, Andrew RT Davies MS described the deaths due to hospital transmission as “a real scandal” and repeated calls for an inquiry into the issue.

“Deaths linked to hospital-acquired COVID infections is turning into a real scandal in the second wave and my deepest sympathies go to the families of those who’ve tragically died,” he said.

“Despite claims to the contrary from Labour’s health minister, lessons have clearly not been learnt from previous outbreaks in hospitals and as we’ve seen in recent days, the Welsh Government has lost all purpose and direction.

“Rather than dictating what people can and can’t buy, ministers need to urgently address this problem and start ensuring serious focus is given to Covid-light hospitals and infection control so we can better protect patients in the Welsh NHS.

“We’ve previously called for an inquiry into hospital-acquired infections and we repeat that call. Wales deserves better than what we are currently seeing from this Labour administration.”

24 of the deaths confirmed by PHW today were in the Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board area. There were also another five deaths in the Swansea Bay health board area, three more people died in Cardiff and Vale and two in the Aneurin Bevan health board area.

The remaining deaths were in the Betsi Cadwaladr, Hywel Dda and Powys health board areas.

The highest number of new cases in the last 24 hours was 276 in Rhondda Cynon Taf. Cardiff recorded 170 new cases followed by 127 in Swansea and 119 in Caerphilly.

Jane Dodds, Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats

Lib Dems call for four nations Covid Christmas summit

The Liberal Democrats are calling for a “four nations summit” to consider a united approach to keeping family gatherings safe during the festive season.

In a joint letter to the four governments of the UK, the Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey, Scottish Leader Willie Rennie, Welsh Leader Jane Dodds and Alliance Deputy Leader Stephen Farry MP warned the “interlinked nature of life in the United Kingdom means no one government can devise guidance for the festive season in isolation.”

The letter follows uncertainty about students returning for Christmas and conflicting comments about family gatherings, with Scotland’s National Clinical Director Jason Leitch branding multi-household gatherings “fiction” while Prime Minister Boris Johnson indicated rules in England could be relaxed.

To enable travel to happen safely, the Liberal Democrat and Alliance politicians believe a “four nations summit” must agree:

  • Uniform guidance for family gatherings.
  • A common approach to student return and asymptomatic testing.
  • Cooperative measures to expand transport over the Christmas period.

Leader of the Liberal Democrats Ed Davey said: “No one country can manage this challenge in isolation. The fractured rules across the UK have already been incredibly difficult to piece together.

“We need a four nations summit to agree on one set of uniform guidance for Christmas that works for families across the UK. Ministers across Britain need to start work on it now.”

Welsh Liberal Democrats leaderJane Dodds added: “I cannot imagine a Christmas without spending it with the people I love. I am therefore pleased Liberal Democrat Education Secretary Kirsty Williams is bolstering mental health services and made students returning for Christmas a priority.

“While the priority must continue to be keeping people safe and ensuring no one is left behind, the four governments of the United Kingdom would do well to do all they can to bring some Christmas cheer to a tough year.”

Last week Health Minister Vaughan Gething told BBC Breakfast that he was hopeful the firebreak lockdown introduced last Friday was the “best chance” to save Christmas in Wales.

“We want to have a Christmas where people can see each other,” he said.

“This gives us the best chance to do that, but if I were to tell you today what Christmas would look like, then I would guess, give people false hope, and we shouldn’t be doing that at all.”

Image by Sabine van Erp from Pixabay

New report considers cost of ‘free personal care’ for older adults in Wales

Researchers at Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre have released a new report looking at the lessons that can be learnt from the introduction of Free Personal Care in Scotland, and examining the implications of implementing the same policy in Wales.

Arguing that a way forward is needed on the future funding of older adult social care, the academics reveal in the new report that the option of providing ‘free personal care’ to older adults along the lines of Scotland could cost around £300m per year (equivalent to 1.5% of the Welsh budget for day-to-day spending).

However, the researchers acknowledge that the situation in Wales differs from Scotland in key respects, and that ongoing costs could be driven up because of Wales’ larger older population and high prevalence of frailty.

The Wales Fiscal Analysis report highlights that, having accounted for inflation, public spending on older adult social care fell by nearly 10%, from £1,058 to £956 per head between 2009–10 and 2018–19. This follows another Wales Fiscal Analysis report that highlighted the resourcing challenges facing the sector.

The researchers conclude that it is inevitable that Wales will have to spend more on social care over the next decade, and that this presents an opportunity to reconsider arrangements that currently govern how people pay for care.

Cian Siôn, one of the authors of the report, said: “Free personal care is obviously attractive in Wales but there have always been concerns about whether we can afford it. Our report sets out an initial cost estimate for the policy and outlines the factors a more precise estimate would need to consider.

“Wales has already ameliorated some social care costs by placing a weekly cap on home care charges and increasing the asset threshold, above which, residents need to fund their own care costs. This means that the starting point for Wales in relation to free personal care would be different to Scotland, with some of the policy’s associated costs already baked into the Welsh Government budget.

“But there are other factors that could drive up the cost of the policy. The over-65 population in Wales is proportionately a little larger than in Scotland and the over-85 is population expected to grow slightly faster. Higher prevalence of frailty could be another factor that would increase costs.”

The paper also discusses how the Scottish Government had to step in to recompense ‘self-funders’ who had their Attendance Allowance withdrawn by the Department for Work and Pensions after the policy was implemented in Scotland. According to the researchers, this strengthens the case in favour of devolving this benefit prior to the introduction of free personal care in Wales.

Cian Siôn added: “Even before the pandemic, the long-term cost pressures of providing social care for an aging population were widely recognised. Sustained demand for personal protective equipment and reduced occupancy in care homes could drive up the unit cost of care even further.

“A national conversation about how to ensure the sector is properly resourced must coincide with a discussion about how people pay for care. Free Personal Care represents one way of reforming the current arrangements and should be weighed up as an option.

“In normal times, the additional budget required to implement this policy would be a significant ask, and for it to be feasible, it would need to be a top budget priority. The impact of Covid-19 on public finances will make choices about priorities more difficult; but finding a way forward on the future financing of social care will continue to be an imperative.”

Photo by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

Delay to North Wales NHS 111 roll-out slammed 

Aberconwy MS Janet Finch-Saunders has criticised the delay in rolling out the non-emergency NHS 111 telephone service across north Wales until 2022.

The 111 service is designed to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, providing health information, advice and access to urgent out-of-hours primary care.

“I have received a number of complaints from confused constituents who have been directed towards the NHS 111 service to find that the non-emergency medical advice service remains unavailable for the North Wales area,” Mrs Finch-Saunders said.

“To now learn of a delay to the national roll out of this service is, frankly, not good enough. This is an incredible disappointment, especially as residents had been already been informed that the service would be rolled out for the Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board area in 2021.

“That the alternative non-emergency advice number continues to charge residents of North Wales is also a disgrace. The Welsh Government’s continued mismanagement of BCUHB means that those isolated and elderly residents, without routine access to the computer, will continue to be charged to access an essential health helpline to get the advice they require.

“The NHS 111 helpline is a vital telephone service that many of my most vulnerable residents are desperate to utilise. I urge the Welsh Health Minister to look again at these plans to ensure that the original promised time frame can actually be delivered.”

Photo by Nation.Cymru

Cultural Recovery Fund receives over 1,000 applications for support

Dafydd Elis-Thomas MS, Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism, has revealed the government has received over 1,000 applications for support from the Cultural Recovery Fund.

The £53 million fund was announced in July to provide support to theatres, music venues, heritage sites, museums, galleries and independent cinemas, which have all experienced a loss of revenue due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Last week the Arts Council of Wales, which is responsible for distributing £27.5 million of the fund, announced a package of support for music, dance, theatre, literature, visual and applied arts, combined arts, and digital art organisations as part of the fund.

Overall a total of 222 organisations will receive essential financial support, mostly in revenue grants to support those facing urgent financial difficulties and to protect as many jobs in the sector as possible. Capital grants have also been awarded to make physical adaptions to buildings needed to adhere to social distancing regulations.

The Arts Council estimates the funding will protect at least 1,800 jobs, providing a lifeline to the sector. A list of the organisations to receive grants is available here.

The remainder of the Cultural Recovery Fund administered by the Welsh Government closed for applications on 2 October.

In written statement Mr Elis-Thomas confirmed more than 1,000 applications have been received and that some organisations have already received payments. He also announced there would be a reallocation of funds distributed via local authorities to ensure more money reaches areas with the highest numbers of applicants.

“Based on the clear demand in some authorities compared to others, we have reallocated budgets to those areas with the greatest need,” he wrote.

“We expect continued demand in Cardiff and the surrounding areas and are exploring options to secure additional resources to meet this demand.

“We continue to work with stakeholders, including unions and freelancers, through the Freelancer Taskforce to support the sector through this extremely difficult period.”

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