Senedd roundup: Government U-turn on care home testing
The Welsh Government has revealed plans to extend testing for Covid-19 in care homes.
There had been pressure from opposition parties to follow the lead of the UK Government after the announcement on Tuesday that testing was being opened up to all care home residents and staff in England with or without symptoms.
The Welsh NHS was previously only providing testing to residents and staff who had symptoms.
The new testing regime doesn’t go as far as that in England but will extend testing to residents and staff within care homes where an outbreak of coronavirus is occurring.
From tomorrow eight new mobile testing units become available and will be deployed to test all residents in affected care homes (and potentially in neighbouring care homes) and repeat testing the following week.
Testing will also be available in the largest care homes (those with more than 50 beds) which are at greater risk of experiencing an outbreak due to their size.
On Wednesday, First Minister Mark Drakeford told a virtual meeting with AMs: “The reason we don’t offer tests to everybody in care homes… is because clinical evidence tells us there is no value in doing so.”
On Saturday, Health Minister Vaughan Gething said: “Our national testing plan has 2 main aims – to reduce the harm caused by coronavirus and to help people and professionals get back to their normal daily lives.
“We are learning more about coronavirus every day – the evidence is constantly changing and emerging and we keep it under constant review.
“At the moment, the evidence does not support the blanket testing of everyone who does not have symptoms.
“But, in a care home setting, where there are some people who have symptoms of coronavirus and others who do not, testing everyone, including those who do not, does have a purpose – we will be doing this to help manage outbreaks.”
Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Social Care, Janet Finch-Saunders AM welcomed the U-turn: “Testing can help to reduce the spread of this deadly and horrid virus that is having a devastating impact on the most vulnerable in society. It is a shame that the extra capacity in the Wales Covid-19 testing programme couldn’t have been used sooner.”
Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price described the new policy as “a step in the right direction” but added “the logic behind testing only in larger care homes and ‘potentially those neighbouring ones with outbreaks’ is questionable.”
Mr Price also called for more information about how the testing strategy is being shaped: “Welsh Government says the evidence does not support ‘blanket testing’. They should publish that evidence swiftly so that it can be scrutinised to see how and why it differs from international evidence and best practice that promotes universal testing of all care home staff and residents.”
Public Health Wales has confirmed a further 44 deaths in Wales from coronavirus, taking the total number of deaths to 969.
183 new cases were reported taking the total to 10,155.
There have been 1,438 new tests carried out in the last 24 hours, bringing the total number to 38,752.
Plaid Cymru press for release of damning report
Plaid Cymru Leader Adam Price AM has called on the Welsh Government to publish the ‘Operation Cygnus’ findings after responses to written questions in the Senedd revealed that the Labour administration had received a copy of the report.
Operation Cygnus was a simulation exercise carried in October 2016 to estimate the impact of a hypothetical H2N2 influenza pandemic on the United Kingdom.
Ministers have been accused of covering up the report which allegedly showed serious deficiencies in the UK’s preparedness to deal with a pandemic.
Jon Ashworth, Labour’s health spokesman, accused UK Government ministers of not preparing the NHS properly for the coronavirus crisis, despite the exercise, and called for the report to be published last month.
Plaid Cymru Leader Adam Price said: “We need to know exactly what specific actions the Welsh Government took to better plan and prepare our NHS for an inevitable pandemic in light of the report and its findings.
“This is not just interesting to the public, it is in the public interest to know what steps the Welsh Government took in terms of PPE, testing infrastructure, key equipment and their general preparedness for a global pandemic.”
“It would be deeply hypocritical for Labour to say one thing in Westminster but do another in Wales where they have the capacity to do so. I hope the First Minister will listen to his colleagues and do the responsible thing and publish the conclusions of the Operation Cygnus report they received.”
Half a million more fluid resistant gowns land at Cardiff Airport
A chartered flight carrying around half a million fluid-resistant gowns for NHS Wales arrived at Cardiff Airport yesterday afternoon.
The cargo, which has come from Hangzhou in China, will provide around three months’ supply of gowns for health and care services in Wales and will allow Wales to support other parts of the UK if needed.
In total, more than 660,000 gowns have been flown into Cardiff Airport this week – a flight carrying 200,000 fluid-resistant gowns arrived from Phnom Penh, Cambodia on Tuesday.
Last Saturday, a shipment of 10 million masks arrived from China. These will be used in the Welsh NHS and in social care settings and the Welsh Government has also provided mutual aid to Scotland and Northern Ireland.
£11m boost for struggling families
An extra £11 million is being made available to help families facing hardship as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Welsh Government had made the money available to increase the amount of funding for the Discretionary Assistance Fund (DAF) so it can support the calls for financial help from people across Wales.
Meanwhile, the Minister for Housing and Local Government Julie James, has written to the UK Government urging it to change Discretionary Housing Payments. These are available to people in receipt of Housing Benefit and Universal Credit, but they have to wait at least five weeks to receive it.
People who are not entitled to either of those two benefits, but are on reduced incomes due to coronavirus, have no entitlement to the payments.
The Minister is calling on the UK Government to make a permanent change to give all Universal Credit claimants entitlement to DHP from the date of their claim, rather than waiting for five weeks.
James also wants a temporary change to give those people who are not in receipt of these benefits but are facing difficulties meeting housing-related costs as a result of coronavirus access to DHP.
Ms James said: “I’m very concerned tenants in the social and private rented sector may face difficulties meeting housing costs in the face of reduced incomes during the current crisis.”