Senedd roundup: Plaid Cymru calls for end to national lockdowns

Adam Price. Picture by Plaid Cymru / Kevin John Photography.

Owen Donovan, Senedd Home

Plaid Cymru has released proposals it wants to see adopted at the conclusion of the current firebreak lockdown next week and says the government must follow through on its pledge to “adopt a zero-Covid-19 strategy for Wales”.

Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price also called on the government to ensure the Autumn firebreak is the “last national lockdown” in Wales.

Plaid’s proposals include:

Optimising testing capacity in Wales to ensure more results are returned within the 24-hour turn-around time.

Up to £800 of financial support for those self-isolating.

Blended learning in schools.

Maintaining travel restrictions.

Mass testing.

Identifying Covid-free or Covid-light zones in hospitals.

Mental health support.

A vaccine plan for Wales.

“As this pandemic wears on, possibly for months or even years to come, we need a sustainable alternative. Government needs to set out a plan for next six months and a broader vision for next 18 months. We can’t keep going in and out of national lockdowns – this circuit breaker has to be the last,” Mr Price said.

“Above all else, the Welsh Government must focus on optimising Wales’s own testing capacity through NHS so that Wales is decreasingly reliant on the failing UK Lighthouse Labs to process tests and reaches the 24-hour turnaround timescale target.

“This is both a health and an economic emergency and businesses must be supported financially to weather the storm.  The Westminster Government must also commit to maintaining the furlough scheme in Wales for as long as the Welsh Government deems it necessary to support our public health measures.

“It’s time for a new strategy, a new approach to enable life to return to normal as far as possible.”

There have been 44 deaths dues to coronavirus and 1,200 new cases of the virus in the last 24 hours according to the latest report from Public Health Wales.

PHW also confirmed in a statement that today figures include an unspecified number of deaths from previous days because of “a reporting time lag”.

A further 44 people have died with coronavirus in Wales, according to the latest figures.

Twenty-four of the deaths reported today were in the Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board area and a further 10 were in Swansea Bay.

Rhondda Cynon Taf had 240 new cases, the highest in Wales, followed by Cardiff with 158, Swansea with 143 and 82 in Caerphilly.

Over the last seven days Merthyr Tydfil has the highest infection rate in the country at 741 per 100,000 people and also the highest proportion of positive tests at 30.8 per 100,000.

Photo by skeeze from Pixabay

Cancer referrals “back to normal levels”

Shadow Health Minister, Andrew RT Davies MS (Con, South Wales Central), was alarmed by the increase in excess deaths as a result of causes other than Covid-19, as well as a recent estimate putting the number of people with undiagnosed cancers in Wales as high as 3,000.

“Since the start of the pandemic….in Wales, female deaths from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in the home have gone up by 92% against the five-year average. Male deaths from heart disease at home in Wales have gone up by 22% above the five-year average. Excess deaths at home were mostly due to deaths not involving Covid-19. What is your plan to tackle these excess deaths?”
– Shadow Health Minister, Andrew RT Davies MS

Health Minister, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth), confirmed that many routine cancer services have restarted, including – importantly – screening services. Cancer referrals were said to be at “normal levels”.

Keeping the pandemic under control would, in itself, help deal with excess deaths – particularly in light of critical care capacity.

“….we have a critical care base of 152 beds. About a third of our current capacity….is taken up with coronavirus patients. Now that means we’re already seeing a high number of people with non-Covid causes. We want to maintain that activity through the winter, to make sure that we minimise any harm that is caused by the necessary choices that we need to make to keep control of the pandemic.”
– Health Minister, Vaughan Gething

Lighthouse lab use risks undermining confidence in care home testing

Rhun ap Iorwerth MS (Plaid, Ynys Môn) was disappointed by a decision by the Minister for routine testing in care homes to be undertaken by the controversial Lighthouse labs given that issues remain there. Does this undermine confidence in a sector which was already highly vulnerable?

The Minister didn’t think so. He accepted there remained issues with Lighthouse labs, but the situation was improving and extra capacity could be freed-up to test the public at large.

“We’re moving to a position where Lighthouse labs, when it comes to their operation around care homes, are improving the turnaround….We’ve seen some improvement. We want to see it improve further. And this provides a consistency of provision, because I fully expect that local partners will, as we see high prevalence rates at present, want to move to the more regular weekly testing….That then means that our Public Health Wales capacity can be deployed to support community outbreaks, which we know have increased and we know we are likely to need to deal with, as we go through the winter.”
– Health Minister, Vaughan Gething

A Transport for Wales train. Picture by Jeremy Segrott (CC BY 2.0)

Rail nationalisation a necessary response to a “broken delivery model”

  • First Senedd reaction to the recent announcement that the Wales & Borders rail franchise will be nationalised from February 2021.
  • Criticism of the decision not to tell the Senedd first; Minister says there wasn’t enough time.
  • Minister warns that “more difficult decisions” may need to be made.

New delivery model “will protect rail services”

Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South), defended the recent announcement that the Wales & Borders rail franchise would be nationalised as a necessary step to protect rail services. Passenger revenue provided over half of the rail operators income before the Covid-19 pandemic and that forced the Welsh Government’s hand.

While some elements were still under negotiation, he ran through what this new “working relationship” means:

The Minister continued to make the case for a Barnett Formula consequential from England’s High Speed 2 project in the same manner as Scotland.

While there were complaints from across the chamber that a statement wasn’t issued to the Senedd, the Minister said the timing of the agreement being finalised meant it was too late to table a statement and it also gave TfW Rail enough time to brief its 2,500-strong workforce.

“Difficult decisions will need to be made”

Shadow Economy Minister, Russell George MS (Con, Montgomery), believes people don’t necessarily care about “whose name is on the trains”, but the quality of service. He wasn’t optimistic that public ownership would necessarily improve things and presented a far greater risk than nationalising Cardiff Airport.

Plaid Cymru supported the decision. Helen Mary Jones MS (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) asked whether the new arrangement would open the door for rail to better respond to public priorities. She listed improved station facilities and joined-up timetabling amongst others.

The Minister raised the possibility that bus timetables could be enhanced once new legislation is introduced (this term’s Bus Bill was withdrawn due to the pandemic).

In response to Labour backbenchers, he said the government remains committed to taking forward rail projects such as enhancement of the Ebbw Valley (including passenger services to and from Newport) and Maesteg lines, as well as the South Wales Metro.

He went on to say that Covid-19 had broken the delivery model for rail services in the UK and no private business would’ve been able to absorb the costs of running services during the pandemic. He warned of “difficult decisions….having to be made”, including a possible reduction in services until passenger numbers begin to recover.

Nick Ramsay AM. Photo The National Assembly for Wales.

Conservative members press for deselection of MS Nick Ramsay.

Conservative Party members in Monmouth have submitted a petition to the local Conservative association seeking to block MS Nick Ramsey from standing for re-election at next year’s Senedd election.

Mr Ramsey was suspended from the party after he was arrested on New Year’s Day and released without facing any charges two days later.

He subsequently took legal action against the Conservative Senedd group and was “fully re-instated” to the group in February following a High Court ruling that group leader Paul Davies had broken the party’s constitution in suspending him.

Monmouth Conservative Association chairman Nick Hackett-Pain told the BBC the group had been “in receipt of a petition signed by a large number of association members”.

“This petition requests for a special general meeting of the association to be called to reconsider the adopting of the sitting member, Nick Ramsay as our prospective candidate for the Welsh Parliament (Senedd) election next year,” he added..

Mr Hackett-Pain said he was “duty-bound” to call a meeting due to the “large number of members petitioning”.

The meeting is due to take place later this month.

New funding to give ‘helping hand’ to those struggling with mental health issues

The government is making £3 million of support available as a ‘helping hand’ to those most vulnerable to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Minister for Mental Health and Wellbeing Eluned Morgan says the money will be used to provide help to those looking for work, permanent accommodation and people who may be struggling with mental health or substance misuse problems.

The funding is split into seven distinct areas and will see the Welsh Government work in partnership with the Department for Work and Pensions, local authorities, the police and Area Planning Boards, as well as supporting health boards to provide voluntary sector led mental health support in their areas.

Funding includes:

  • £1.4million towards third sector led schemes designed to address low level mental health and wellbeing need
  • £75,000 will fund the ‘I Can Work’ programme supporting people with mild to moderate mental health problems into paid work
  • £25,000 to support development for the substance misuse workforce to ensure they are adequately skilled and supported to provide essential services
  • £750,000 to provide residential rehabilitation accommodation for those with complex needs to successfully transition to living independently in permanent accommodation
  • £500,000 to provide PPE to substance misuse services providing a range of support for some of the most vulnerable people in society
  • £150,000 Digital Inclusion Fund for the enhancement of digital services for service users who are currently excluded
  • £50,000 to support work with police forces across Wales piloting nasal naloxone kits as part of the drive to reduce drug related deaths

Eluned Morgan said: “We know that early intervention is vital for better outcomes. We’ve seen the devastating effect this pandemic has had on the most vulnerable members of our society and we must provide an extra helping hand when they need it.

“This funding is a key part of our recovery plan, where we have committed to protecting and improving individuals’ well-being, supporting the homeless, and reducing unemployment to give people the best chance in life.

“These are tough times for us all to live through, but if we look out for each other and support the vulnerable, we will get through it. Anyone concerned about their mental health or that of a relative or friend can access the C.A.L.L. Helpline on 0800 137 737 or can text ‘help’ to 81066.”

Following the announcement Welsh Conservative Shadow Health Minister ‘Andrew RT Davies said: “For months, Welsh Conservatives have been calling on the Welsh government to provide support for people in Wales struggling because of the pandemic and lockdowns, and experiencing a deterioration in their mental wellbeing.

“The effect on some of the most vulnerable people in Wales has been absolutely devastating. Almost daily, we read media reports of suicides and others who are suffering terribly during the pandemic.

“We’re not out of the woods yet, and we’re approaching winter. It’s critical that the Welsh Labour-led Government ramps up the work it is carrying out for vulnerable people.”

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