Senedd roundup: Fall in coronavirus cases gives “headroom” for cautious changes
First Minister Mark Drakeford has hinted at the easing of further lockdown restrictions following the Welsh Government’s coronavirus review next week but warned the cautious approach that has characterised the easing of restrictions in Wales so far is likely to continue.
Speaking at Monday’s press briefing Mr Drakeford said if new cases of coronavirus continue to fall, then there will be “headroom” to lift some lockdown restrictions.
Highlighting the decline of confirmed cases of coronavirus from a high of about 400 cases a day at the start of the lockdown to about 50 new cases today, he said: “We want to keep it [the reproduction rate] below one. At the moment it is at 0.8 in Wales and stable.
“But there are some limitations to the usefulness of the R number as the number of cases of coronavirus continue to fall.”
“Because the number of new cases is falling, then the risk of meeting someone with the disease and being infected by it is falling as well.
“If at the end of next week, the number of people carrying the disease in Wales is still falling, then the risk of meeting someone with the disease will be falling too.
“And we will have some headroom to go on in that careful and cautious way of lifting the restrictions in Wales.”
There have been calls from retailers and also the Welsh Conservatives for non-essential shops to be given the green light to reopen but looking ahead to next week’s review Mr Drakeford refused to be specific about possible changes the government might make to the lockdown restrictions.
“We’ll look at a long list of ideas this week. We reduce that list to a short list of the most possible ideas which we then look at greater detail next week,” he said.
“We will have to select the careful measures we can offer to people in Wales, while remaining safe from the risk that coronavirus could accelerate away from us again.”
Public Health Wales has confirmed 42 new cases of Covid-19 taking the total number of those infected in Wales since March to 14,438.
There were three further deaths reported, taking the total to 1,401. There were 3,263 tests conducted yesterday.
Plaid Cymru calls for coronavirus test strategy for school staff
Plaid Cymru Shadow Minister for Education, Siân Gwenllian MS, says a clear coronavirus testing regime must be in place for staff when schools in Wales reopen at the end of the month.
This would be in addition to the antibody testing that Welsh Government has already promised.
An antibody test will show if a person has had coronavirus in the past, but not if a person is currently infectious.
Education Minister Kirsty Williams promised teachers that they would “be a priority group” in the new antibody testing, when she confirmed that schools would reopen on 29th June last week, but so far no dates have been given for when testing will commence.
Ms Gwenllian said: “I’m calling on Welsh Government to ensure that teachers have an antibody test and that there is a clear testing regime in place before they return to school. If a teacher has a negative antibody test, they may still have the live virus and yet be asymptomatic. They would return to the school environment, at the risk of those around them.
“If we provide both tests to teachers, it will give them more confidence that a return to a school setting can be safe.”
Pledge of speedier Covid-19 test results
First Minister Mark Drakeford has pledged to increase the speed at which coronavirus test results are delivered.
For the most effective contact tracing system the government’s scientific advisers say test results should be delivered within 24 hours but currently only two thirds of tests in Wales meet that target.
Mr Drakeford told BBC Politics: “Our ambition is to have as many of them [Covid-19 tests] as possible done within 24 hours so that if people don’t test positive we can release people back into the workforce and that’s a moving picture.”
The First Minister also confirmed Wales currently has the capacity to carry out 9,500 tests daily in Wales and with extra capacity is available by using resources in England.
The government “test, trace, protect” programme launched last Monday and aims to identify the close contacts of people who have tested positive for coronavirus and ask them to self-isolate for 14 days.
New support for unpaid carers
An additional £50,000 of funding has been made available by the Welsh Government to support unpaid carers mental health during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The money will provide more unpaid carers with professional and peer support to help them manage their mental health.
New guidance has also been published for carers which provides practical advice on planning for alternative care arrangements should they be needed, as well as resources for maintaining good mental health and well-being.
The government we will also be publishing new guidance on the provision of PPE to unpaid carers.
Claire Morgan, Director of Carers Wales and Chair of Wales Carers Alliance said: “We have become increasingly concerned about the mental health and emotional resilience of carers since the start of the pandemic. This funding will ensure we are able to reach more carers and support them at this challenging time.”
Digital services introduced in NHS Wales are here to stay
Health Minister Vaughan Gething has acknowledged the role new technology has played in the NHS during the coronavirus crisis and says the new digital services that have been introduced since March are here to stay and will deliver long-term benefits.
Virtual outpatient activity has doubled during the pandemic, with over a thousand remote consultations a week across the NHS using the new NHS Wales Video Consultation Service.
The Welsh Government has also supported Digital Communities Wales to expand their digital device loan scheme by 1100 devices. They are prioritising the supply to care homes, so residents can continue access to health and wellbeing services.
Feedback from patients who have received virtual care has been positive, with 97% of patient’s rating this new way or working as excellent, really good or good.
Clinicians using the service are also satisfied with the new ways of working, with 85% giving an excellent, really good or good rating.
Minister for Health and Social Services, Vaughan Gething, said: “The new systems in place are not only responding to social distancing measures to protect people now, but will provide long-term benefits for the NHS here in Wales.”
“The technology is allowing clinicians to connect faster with patients and each other. I’m pleased that the feedback from patients and clinicians has been positive, it’s crucial that everyone feels digital technology is there to support them in delivering and receiving care in Wales.”
Other digital services supporting COVID response
- A programme to modernise Eye care services and referrals is being accelerated to deliver a national platform for managing care.
- Digital improvements to the management of patients in Critical Care settings will be accelerated through a programme to introduce a new electronic critical care system.
- An upgrade to the national pathology system has also been accelerated to provide more resilience as demand on the service increases.
Remote working solutions
- Video consulting for patients – primary care has seen over 5100 consultations held Secondary care – over 3000 consultations held. Community care – 220 care home staff members trained on system by Digital Communities Wales.
- Microsoft Teams has now been rolled out across NHS Wales, enabling secure and effective collaboration tool between health professionals. The platform allows discussion and collaboration using video, audio, messaging and file sharing across groups and disciplines to help co-ordinate care.
- GP remote working – supports GPs and key staff to work from home has had well over 1300 users set up.
- Consultant Connect –Wales is first UK country to offer all NHS primary care clinicians with this technology that enables rapid and direct access to hospital specialists for advice and guidance on managing a patient’s condition.
- Digital devices for care homes – work underway to get 1100 devices to care homes to virtual NHS appointments and helping families keep in touch.
- Digital devices for health boards – over 1000+ devices being supplied to places such as hospitals.
Infrastructure and data sharing
- Upgraded network bandwidth and infrastructure – to cope with demand and video consultations
- Medical images now available to view across health board boundaries – recent updates to Wales Clinical Portal means clinicians can access more information about patients and faster, resulting in quicker diagnosis and reduce admin and transportation costs.
- GP access to clinical portal – to view hospital information such as discharge summaries and clinical letters from any hospital.
Abolish the Welsh Assembly party chooses new leader
Richard Suchorzewski, a former member of UKIP, has been confirmed as the new leader of the Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party.
He replaces Jonathan Harrington who was co-founder of anti-devolution the party in 2015 along with David Bevan.
Mr Suchorzewski previously stood in the 2019 Newport West by-election, the first time the party had nominated a candidate for a Westminster seat. He finished in 8th place and the party lost their deposit having secured just 205 votes (0.9%).
Mr Suchorzewski said: “ I shall do everything within my power to ensure that The Abolish The Welsh Assembly Party gains seats at the 2021 Welsh Senedd elections by showing the people of Wales what an unnecessary tier of politicians, bureaucracy and expense it truly is, and how the past 21 years has proven that it’s a failed devolution project.”