Health Minister Vaughan Gething’s refusal to provide coronavirus tests to all care home residents and workers has drawn an angry response from opposition politicians and from within the care sector in Wales.
On Tuesday the UK Government opened up testing to all care home residents and staff in England with or without symptoms. The Welsh NHS is currently only providing testing to residents and staff who have symptoms.
Mr Gething told BBC Radio Wales on Wednesday morning he had been given advice that testing everyone in the sector was not the best use of resources but said the policy could be reconsidered as “evidence” develops, adding: “We’re still targeting our resources where they’re going to make the biggest difference.”
Janet Finch-Saunders, the Welsh Conservatives Shadow Social Minister, called for mandatory testing last week. Responding to the comments from Mr Gething, she said: “This is absolutely staggering. We don’t know the prevalence of infection in care homes and the proportion of residents affected, nor the issue of staff working in close quarters to people who are potentially highly infectious.
“It’s absolutely vital that we determine the true risk to residents and staff of our care homes. The Welsh Government should act to do all it can to help stop a further escalation of the human tragedy being experienced in care homes.”
Plaid Cymru Local Government spokesperson Delyth Jewell AM said:“It is frankly offensive that the Health Minister has said that protecting care home residents and staff is not the best use of resources, when residents are dying every day.
“Data released by the Office of National Statistics yesterday showed that deaths from Coronavirus occurring in care homes were much higher than initially thought, and there’s an unexpected increase in deaths not attributed to Covid-19 in some health boards which requires an explanation.
“Care home managers have told me that they need testing in order to be able to receive the information they need to prevent the spread of the virus, so the Health Minister’s decision contradicts what the sector is desperately calling for.”
Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds was also highly critical of the minister’s decision and called for it to be reconsidered: “If we want to keep people safe and contain the spread of this virus then we need to ensure everyone who is potentially exposed is tested and can be treated. Failure to test will only cause further concern and distress to the family and loved ones of those living or working in our care homes.
“I urge the Health Minister to think again as getting this wrong will cost lives.”
Mario Kreft of Care Forum Wales told the BBC earlier: ”We have to say, looking at the policy to date, it would appear that despite a lot of people doing great work, the care home sector in the UK and in Wales is almost seen as collateral damage.
“What we now need to do is make sure people in the care sector are protected, and in particular we need to ensure that safe discharge from hospital is effected through proper testing.”
There have been 184 deaths so far in Welsh care homes.
Drakeford complains of lack of engagement from UK ministers
First Minister Mark Drakeford has told Sky News the Welsh Government is preparing its “own thinking” and “own possible measures” for how Wales could leave the coronavirus lockdown and complained of a lack of engagement from UK ministers.
Mark Drakeford said: “The four nations of the United Kingdom took a decision to go into lockdown on the same day, and with the same measures in place, and my preference is to come out of lockdown in the same way – common measures to a common timetable across the United Kingdom.
“But if we can’t agree on that and it’s a bit of a struggle, I have to say, to get the UK government to engage with us on that agenda.
“So we are preparing our own thinking, our own possible measures.”
Mr Drakeford added: “My preference is to do it together.
“If we can’t reach that point then, of course, my responsibility will be to make the decisions that are right for Wales.”
On Monday the First Minister pointed out in an interview with the Guardian he had the power to start enacting his own plan to ease restrictions if he thinks it is in the best interest of Wales.
He said the Coronavirus Act 2020 allows the devolved nations to go their own way and it may now be time to consider putting that into action.
Mr Drakeford also said the UK Government needed to do more to keep in contact with the leaders of the devolved nations and called on No 10 to invite them to a Cobra meeting before the weekend.
Another 73 deaths of people with coronavirus have been recorded in Wales in the last 24 hours, taking the total number to 886.
Public Health Wales confirmed 117 confirmed new cases, taking the total to 9,629.
Just 734 tests were carried out on Tuesday.
Government support reaches struggling businesses
The Welsh Government has confirmed that over £500 million of support has now been paid out to Welsh businesses struggling to deal with the financial consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.
The funding is from the £1.7 billion package of support from the government, which includes the Economic Resilience Fund.
Retail, leisure and hospitality businesses in Wales occupying properties with a rateable value of between £12,001 and £51,000 have received a grant of £25,000.
A £10,000 grant has been paid to firms, which are eligible for small business rates relief and have a rateable value of £12,000 or less.
All eligible businesses will also benefit from a year-long rates holiday.
Finance Minister Rebecca Evans said: “We are doing everything we can within the resources we have to protect our economy.
“What the Welsh Government is providing in terms of business support represents 2.7% of our GDP – this is a truly unprecedented commitment and a clear demonstration that we are standing up for businesses in all parts of Wales.”
Cancer patients missing out on crucial treatments
Plaid Cymru has expressed concern for the safety and wellbeing of cancer patients in Wales following reports that screening services have been halted due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Tenovus Cancer Care previously warned that “possibly several hundred cancer patients could die in Wales because of delays in treatment and screening with NHS and private care providers who are dealing with the Covid-19 crisis.”
Prior to the UK-wide Covid-19 lockdown, Welsh Government Health Minister Vaughan Gething assured patients that “treatment, including for cancer, is maintained during the pandemic”, however Cancer Research UK say screening services have been formally ‘paused’ across the UK, meaning new patients are left waiting throughout this crisis for vital early diagnosis.
Plaid Cymru Shadow Minister for Health Rhun ap Iorwerth said that it was “deeply concerning” that cancer screenings had been paused and called for the guidance that had been given to Health Boards on cancer screening and treatment to be made public: “Cancer Research UK statistics show that 450 patients a day die from cancer across the UK and we know that early diagnosis and urgent treatment is vital in ensuring the best chance of entering remission.
“We need to know what guidance has been given to Health Boards with regards to cancer screening and treatment, and that everything is being done to ensure the capacity is there for patients to receive the care they deserve when battling cancer and that they receive it with urgency.
“With screening being paused, we need to know how Welsh Government plans to urgently help those patients who are in real need during this pandemic. Everyone deserves care, no matter who they are and we can’t abandon anyone.”
£10 million boost for health and social care organisations
£10m of funding is being provided to Wales’ health and social care organisations to help get those recovered from Covid-19 home sooner.
It will also help fund crucial community services supporting the Covid-19 response that are helping people to stay at home safely.
The £10m will help provide for:
• the expansion of discharge from hospital schemes
• additional capacity within the community to care for people discharged from hospital
• maximising patients’ independence post Covid-19, including the purchasing of equipment for their home
• enhanced community-based services to reduce pressure on primary and secondary care
The aim is to limit unnecessary time in hospital settings and help prevent readmissions and new admissions.
Made available through Regional Partnership Boards that bring together health boards, local government and the third sector, the funding will be used to build upon or extend already established models of integrated care.
The £10 million is in addition to £40m in support – announced earlier this month – which is available to local authorities to meet the additional costs for providers of adult social care.