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Senedd roundup: Care homes hit as Covid deaths continue to climb

01 Dec 2020 10 minutes Read
Picture by Irene Marie Dorey. (CC0 Public Domain)

Owen Donovan, Senedd Home

Deaths due to Covid-19 are continuing to rise across Wales according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics.

There were 223 deaths involving the virus registered in the week ending 20 November, up from 190 the week before.

58 of those deaths were in care homes, the highest weekly total since mid-May.

Since the start of the pandemic there have been a total of 851 deaths linked to the virus in care homes, just under 25% of all coronavirus deaths in Wales.

Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board recorded 65 deaths between 14-20 November, the highest number in Wales and there were 47 deaths in Aneurin Bevan, 38 in Swansea Bay, 21 in Betsi Cadwaladr and 23 in Cardiff and Vale health board areas.

The total number of deaths from all causes in Wales increased from 742 to 848 in the latest week, up 29.9% on the five-year average for the week.

Overall, there have been a total of 3,536 deaths involving the virus since March in Wales.

Deaths counted by the ONS are when Covid-19 is mentioned by doctors on the death certificate and which occur in all settings – including hospitals, care homes, hospices and people’s homes.

A further 23 people have died due to Covid-19 and 667 people have tested positive for the virus, according to today’s figures from Public Health Wales.

Of the 23 newly reported deaths, 20 were in the Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board area.

Swansea recorded the highest number of new cases (94) followed by Neath Port Talbot (89) and Rhondda Cynon Taf (77).

Blaenau Gwen has replaced Torfaen as the area with the highest weekly infection rate in Wales with 435.1 cases per 100,000 people, up from 428 yesterday.

The case rate in Torfaen has dropped from 442.7 per 100,000 people to 410.8 over the last 24 hours.

Neath Port Talbot has the highest positive test proportion in the country at 20.1% per 100,000 tests.

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Opposition demands evidence supporting new hospitality restrictions is published

First Minister’s Questions

Following yesterday’s announcement of new restrictions on the hospitality sector, Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies MS (Con, Preseli Pembs.), ran through a list of reactions from within the sector itself – it was unfair to establishments which followed the rules, is a “hammer-blow” and puts those businesses and livelihoods at risk.

Business-owners would rightly be upset, also he didn’t believe there was evidence the hospitality sector was driving an increased Covid-19 rate, or that the Welsh Government sought the sector’s views. There was now a risk people will host house parties instead. If that evidence exists, where is it?

The First Minister noted that despite the efforts of the public and businesses, a public health emergency continues and threatens to put pressure on hospital services. The levels of support offered to the sector is the most generous in the UK – £340 million compared to £40million for the whole of England – while hospitality businesses have been closed in England’s Tier 3 areas.

Discussions took place with local authorities, enforcement agencies, unions and the sector itself. There were no easy decisions, but there had to be a balance between protecting the public and businesses.

Adam Price MS (Plaid, Carms. E. & Dinefwr) said his party supported the firebreak on condition that lockdowns were not the default strategy. That firebreak should’ve been stricter, with that missed opportunity leading to yesterday’s announcement. The public backlash is understandable given this was “all stick and no carrot”.

He repeated the request for evidence relating to the decision to be published immediately, as the public might not understand the logic behind the decision; why are some group meetings allowed in certain circumstances, but not others? He would prefer stopping alcohol sales at 7 pm (from this Friday, it’s a blanket ban on non-takeaway alcohol sales) and closing hospitality businesses at 8 pm (from Friday, 6 pm).

The First Minister again argued that Wales’ restrictions were more generous to the sector that England and Scotland. He denied the absence of evidence, pointing members to SAGE publications – which is what the UK/English and Scottish governments based their own decisions around.

There will always be marginal things people can point to and say, “Why’s that allowed when this is not allowed?” This means there will need to be a set of compromises too.

Dr. Dai Lloyd. Picture by Plaid Cymru (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Complaint against Plaid Cymru group chair “politically motivated”

Standards Committee
Complaint against Dr Dai Lloyd MS (Plaid, South Wales West) in his capacity as Plaid Cymru parliamentary group chair.
Complaints made by Jonathan Swan.
Published: 25th November 2020 (pdf)

The complaint – dating back, unbelievably, to June 2017 – is the second in as many months relating to the use of Senedd resources for party political purposes.

Plaid Cymru were accused of holding a political strategy meeting on the Senedd estate and, as group chair, Dai Lloyd didn’t do anything to prevent this meeting going ahead, contrary to Senedd rules on the use of resources.

The complaint is almost identical to that made against Labour earlier this year, except it concerned the 2017 UK General Election. Also, the meeting wasn’t about preparations for the election, but to discuss the reaction to it. The complaint itself was made in February 2020.

As in September this year, the Standards Committee concluded that a breach of the rules had been made, but that no further action should be taken.

The situation is a bit more complicated as it first appears, as the Acting Standards Commissioner, Douglas Bain, believed the complaint was politically motivated. In the 2019-20 standards annual report, published in June, the Acting Commissioner concluded that some members were using the standards procedure “as a political weapon” and that some Senedd members were using members of the public to make complaints on their behalf.
Jonathan Swan – who is said didn’t co-operate fully with the investigation, resulting in increased costs and delays – is the former chair of Plaid Cymru’s Cardiff West branch. He left the party to join Neil McEvoy MS’s then-titled Welsh National Party in December 2019.

The notes of the meeting – corroborated by Neil McEvoy himself (who was a member of Plaid Cymru at the time of the meeting) – were redacted.

The Committee has been asked to consider whether a time limit should be introduced for complaints to prevent the system from being abused in this way. The Commissioner also wants further consideration to be given to allowing the Standards Commissioner to end an investigation if a complainant doesn’t co-operate.

Photo by Debora Alves from Pixabay

Minister celebrates transplant milestone

Health Minister Vaughan Gething has hailed the success of the soft opt-out system of consent for organ donation in Wales on the fifth anniversary of the scheme’s introduction.

Under the scheme consent for organ donation is presumed unless the person had opted out.

Since the programme was introduced the number of people opting into the Organ Donor Register has risen 4% from 1,138,527 in 2016/17 to 1,300,494 in the first two quarters of 2020/21. Consent rates for donation recently reached an all-time high in Wales of 77% in 2018/19, after they were as low as 58% in 2015/16

There were more than 200 organ transplants completed on Welsh patients in each of the last two years; an 11% rise from 180 in 2017/18.

“Over the last five years we have seen people’s lives being transformed after receiving an organ. Not only this, but the families of donors have also taken solace in the fact their loved ones have given the gift of life to others,” Mr Gething said.

“None of this would have been possible without the generosity of donors and their families, who give their support, as well as the dedication of all the clinical staff involved.

“We should be incredibly proud of leading the way with an organ donation opt-out scheme in Wales and showing the rest of the UK that such a scheme could work.

“Our achievements have not only saved lives and improved people’s quality of life, but also acted as an example about what a compassionate country can do to care for its citizens.”

Picture by Paul Townley. Public Domain Mark 1.0.

Welsh police forces issue over 3,000 fines for lockdown infringements

Figures released by the National Police Chiefs’ Council have revealed that more than 3,000 fines have been issued by Welsh police forces for breaches of coronavirus restrictions since the start of the pandemic in March.

A total of 3,028 fixed penalty notices were issued to people in Wales between 27 March and 16 November with over 70% of those related to breaking travel restrictions.

Dyfed Powys Police has been the busiest force in Wales, handing out 1,759 notices, over 58% of the total for the whole of the country.

North Wales Police issued 582 fines, South Wales Police gave out 425 and Gwent Police 232. The British Transport Police issued 30.

Photo by Vance Osterhout on Unsplash

Any expansion of degree apprenticeships requires funding certainty and extra flexibility

Economy & Infrastructure Committee
Degree Apprenticeships (pdf)

  • Call for clarity over the funding of degree apprenticeships beyond the three-year pilot period.
  • Support for increasing the range of degree apprenticeships to areas other than IT and engineering.
  • Women under-represented amongst degree apprentices.

Degree apprenticeships combine hands-on work-based learning with studying for an undergraduate degree at a partner university.

They’re relatively new, having been introduced as part of a £20million three-year pilot during 2018-19, with two subjects – digital and engineering/advanced manufacturing Funding for 155 apprentices was provided during 2018-19 and 585 during 2019-20.

A degree apprentice costs £27,000 (the equivalent of three years tuition fees), compared to £7,500 for a higher apprenticeship. The Committee and witnesses questioned whether this was an accurate reflection of the costs.

One of the major issues identified was a lack of clarity concerning funding for degree apprenticeships beyond 2021-22, as well as the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on recruitment.

Some students felt that what they were studying at university didn’t properly tie-in with what they were doing at the work placement. The Committee recommended that a stronger framework is developed to guarantee standards as well as more cooperation with major employers to develop degree apprenticeships.

There was strong support for new degree apprenticeships, particularly in health & social care and business. This was based on pent-up demand from people who had completed lower level apprenticeships and had nowhere to go, reflecting calls for a clearer idea of how to progress in an apprenticeship, with enough flexibility to make a “step down” or “step-up” as and when apprentices need to.

Another issue picked up by the Committee was that degree apprenticeships are overwhelmingly taken up by men.

Of the 380 new or continuing degree apprentices in 2019-20, just 17% were female – though given the employers involved were mainly in male-dominated manufacturing this was “unsurprising”.

Widening the range of degree apprenticeships could potentially address this but wouldn’t change deep-seated gender imbalances in some economic sectors. Estyn called for increased numbers of role models from under-represented groups.

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