Owen Donovan, Senedd Home
Opposition politicians have expressed surprise and anger at comments made by the Chief Executive of Public Health Wales during today’s Health, Social Care, and Sport Committee session.
Dr Tracey Cooper repeatedly told the committee that Public Health Wales was ‘not familiar’ with the Welsh Government’s target of 9,000 Covid-19 tests a day, which was due to be achieved by the end of last month.
Angela Burns MS, the Welsh Conservatives Shadow Health Minister said: “Just what is going on with Public Health Wales? It was absolutely staggering to hear Dr Cooper deny repeatedly that there had been a target of 9,000 tests a day by the end of April and deny ever having even heard of the target set by the Health Minister.
“Dr Cooper and her colleagues failed to give a straight answer on this issue and if I did not know better were trying to evade scrutiny.
“How could she not have heard of the target? It has been widely mentioned in the media – and in the Senedd – for weeks.”
Plaid Cymru Shadow Health Minister Rhun ap Iorwerth, MS, added: “In a separate twist to a remarkable Health Committee meeting, the startling admission to me by Public Health Wales’s Chief Executive that she wasn’t aware of the 9,000 a day target also begs the question, what on earth is going on with Welsh Government’s handling of this crisis?”
Health Minister Vaughan Gething said on 21 March that Public Health Wales was aiming for capacity for 9,000 tests by the end of April. The government announced that it was scrapping all testing targets last week.
Earlier this week a leaked report which was commissioned by the Welsh Government from Public Health Wales, said between 33,300 and 36,000 tests a day will be needed to diagnose symptomatic hospital patients, symptomatic members of the public and to meet its policy on testing in care homes.
Public Health Wales has announced a further 18 people have died in Wales with coronavirus. As of Thursday, a total of 1,062 people have died after testing positive for Covid-19. There are also 87 new cases in Wales, meaning 10,851 have been diagnosed with the virus. 933 tests were carried out yesterday.
Care homes ‘struggling to get testing’
Some care homes are struggling to get staff and residents tested for Covid-19 despite moves by the Welsh government to increase availability.
Previously testing had only been provided by the Welsh NHS to residents and staff who had symptoms.
Last weekend testing was expanded to include all staff and residents in homes where someone had tested positive and on Wednesday it was confirmed that all staff and residents without symptoms in larger homes of 50 beds or more can also be tested.
A survey by the Royal College of Nursing revealed on Monday that just 16 completed tests for COVID-19 were conducted on care home staff in Wales last week.
Mary Wimbury, chief executive of Care Forum Wales, told the health, social care and sport committee: “Some of the practice on the ground is not necessarily reflecting or keeping up with the national policy and that’s causing confusion and stress”.
Complaining that applying for tests and chasing up the results was placing an increasing burden on care providers, she added. “We recognise there are capacity issues, but we would like there to be regular tests of both staff and residents.”
Tories call for committee to examine government’s coronavirus response
Paul Davies MS, the leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the Senedd, has written to the Presiding Officer asking her to explore the formation of a special committee to scrutinise the Welsh Government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The committee would examine use of ministerial powers under the Coronavirus Act and the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Wales) Regulations which have been put in place.
As part of Paul Davies’ proposals, the Committee would also scrutinise key strategic options and issues which cut across different sectors, such as:
- the Welsh Government’s strategy and delivery of the process to lift the Covid-19 restrictions, and what steps the Welsh Government will be taking to ensure a swift recovery for Wales from the pandemic
- the decision-making process within Wales to tackle Covid-19, in particular the collection of data around Covid-19 throughout Wales and the scientific evidence to support decisions
- the effect of different policy proposals by governments across the UK during the pandemic.
Commenting on the proposal, Mr Davies said: “It is essential that Members of the Welsh Parliament are able to fully scrutinise the actions of the Welsh Government, especially with the increase in ministerial powers that they currently have. I’ve previously raised concerns about the lack of scrutiny of the Welsh Government at this time, with slow and incomplete responses from Welsh Ministers to Welsh Parliament Members.
“This Committee would be able to dedicate its time to focus on the issues that matter, such as Welsh Government failures to keep an accurate total of those who have sadly died or on building the testing capacity that we need to ensure lockdown restrictions can be lifted.
“I hope all Members of the Welsh Parliament can support this proposal.”
Here’s another round-up from the virtual Senedd.
First Minister, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West): “We’re moving past the peak”
- The number of newly recorded coronavirus cases in Wales each day is consistently below 200 and there are now fewer than 70 people in critical care with the virus.
- Virus testing capacity has increased to 2,100-a-day and eight mobile testing units will be deployed for care home testing based on recently announced revised guidelines.
- A group is working to understand the impact on ethnic minority communities, which have been proportionally harder hit than the rest of the population.
- Additional funding has been given to local authorities so they can continue to provide free school meals until the end of August or whenever schools reopen.
- A £500 bonus/solidarity payment will be paid to all social care staff.
- Ideally, the UK nations will loosen lockdown restrictions at the same time – though if this was wrong for Wales then the Welsh Government won’t do it.
Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies MS (Con, Preseli Pembs.), was pleased the Welsh Government changed their minds on care home testing, but he asked for publication of the clinical evidence which led to the Welsh Government’s original reluctance to test in care homes – though the First Minister listed a number of studies from around the world upon which that policy was based.
Adam Price MS (Plaid, Carms. E. & Dinefwr) thought the decision was down to a simple lack of testing capacity, which was resulting in smaller care homes being overlooked for testing in favour of larger care homes with 50 or more residents.
There were several questions on the NHS track and trace phone app currently being trialled on the Isle of Wight. The Conservatives were supportive of Wales taking part, but both the First Minister and Delyth Jewell MS (Plaid, South Wales East) voiced concerns over the data and technical aspects of it, which has seen the UK work out of kilter with the rest of the world.
The First Minister hoped these data privacy problems would be addressed so he could recommend the app.
Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South): Recession “is unavoidable”
- Economies around the world are showing record economic downturns; he believes a major recession is now unavoidable but efforts need to be made to avoid it turning into a prolonged depression.
- 700 applications for business support from the Welsh Government are processed and approved daily.
- The Development Bank’s pandemic loan scheme was fully subscribed (1,600 applications) in a week when they usually deal with 400 applications a year. This support will safeguard 4,500 jobs.
- The UK Government are “looking again” at their decision not to support Holyhead for UK-Irish ferry transport.
With news that GE’s plant at Nantgarw could see job losses, Mick Antoniw MS (Lab, Pontypridd) asked what support the Welsh Government was willing to provide?
The Minister described the Welsh Government as a “loyal friend” to GE having given financial support and other advice. The government were determined to support GE through this period – though he warned that the aerospace industry, a major employer in Wales, is likely to be damaged for years “if not decades” to come.
Minister for International Relations & Welsh Language, Eluned Morgan (Lab, Mid & West Wales): UK starts US trade deal talks
- All of the Welsh Government’s overseas offices have been involved in efforts to repatriate Welsh people stuck abroad.
- 80 countries have export restrictions in place, making it more difficult to source things like PPE from abroad – which is already leading to difficulties sourcing paracetamol.
- The UK Government is determined to finalise an EU trade deal by the end of 2020 (despite the pandemic) and trade talks with the United States have started.
- Microsoft has been contacted in order to develop simultaneous translation for Microsoft Teams.
“I did have a discussion yesterday with Greg Hands, who’s the Minister responsible for the negotiation with the US on that new free trade agreement. I did emphasise the importance of making sure that those standards that we hold dear are adhered to, but that the language in the negotiation mandate is pretty vague and….we think it should be tightened up. I think it’s important that they understand….that we do want to make sure that we stick to these high environmental standards, animal welfare standards, labour standards, and consumer standards.”
– Minister for International Relations & Welsh Language, Eluned Morgan
Counsel General & Brexit Minister, Jeremy Miles (Lab, Neath): Discussions start on the post-pandemic recovery
Jeremy Miles was recently named as the Minister in charge of overseeing the recovery from the pandemic.
- Initial discussions have taken place with “world-leading experts” on how to approach the pandemic recovery, particularly how to maintain the environmental benefits which have resulted from the lockdown.
- There needs to be an open public debate on the “kind of Wales we want” and in particular the newfound value of particular types of work which have been overlooked until now (“key workers”).
- Another key part of the recovery is digital delivery of public services, though digital exclusion is “at the heart and soul” of those discussions and will impact the delivery of things like video consultations with GPs.
“People who can work from home may choose to do that more in the future than they have. That may do something to where people choose to live. If people don’t feel they have to be in such close commuting distance, then the distribution of habitation may change, and that may also pose pressures in the future on broadband distribution. So, there are quite big challenges there.”
– Counsel General & Brexit Minister, Jeremy Miles