Today’s Senedd roundup: Call for action to improve pancreatic cancer survival rates

Photo by Debora Alves from Pixabay

Owen Donovan, Senedd Home

The Motion

The Senedd:

  • Recognises that one in four people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the UK do not survive the disease beyond a month and three in four do not survive beyond a year, many because they were not treated quickly enough and also recognises there are around 500 new cases of pancreatic cancer in Wales every year.
  • Recognises pancreatic cancer is the deadliest common cancer with a dismal prognosis that has hardly changed in the last 45 years.
  • Welcomes Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month and the work Pancreatic Cancer UK does to promote awareness.
  • Calls on Welsh Government to take action to improve survival rates for people with pancreatic cancer through: faster treatment, by learning from fast-track surgery models in England; earlier diagnosis, by learning from Rapid Diagnostic Centres being rolled out in England and piloted by two Welsh health boards; timely dietary and nutritional support to enable patients to better tolerate treatment.

A Silent Killer

Lynne Neagle AM (Lab, Torfaen) noted that despite the rapid technological advances of the last fifty years, survival rates for pancreatic cancer have remained static in all this time.

“Pancreatic cancer is the tenth most common cancer in the UK but receives just 1% of research funding. Due to late diagnosis, seven out of 10 people with pancreatic cancer will never receive any treatment, and only one in 10 will receive surgery, which is the only curative solution. Fewer than 6% of those affected in Wales will survive for longer than five years – take a moment to reflect on that.”
– Lynne Neagle AM

Wales’ clinical lead on pancreatic cancer, Bilal Al-Sarireh, told her that while a specialist centre was set up a decade ago, he feels he’s letting patients down because they can’t access treatment quickly enough. The number of patients being offered surgery to remove the cancer has also dropped from 20% to under 15%. She asked whether the Welsh Government would consider establishing a specialist centre for liver, gall bladder and pancreatic surgery?

Several AMs noted the difficulties caused by the “silent” nature of the early symptoms. David Melding AM (Con, South Wales Central) believed there was poor public understanding and methods of identifying pancreatic cancer weren’t as advanced as for other forms of cancer.

Delyth Jewell AM (Plaid, South Wales East) spoke of her grandmother’s experiences before she died in 2005 which underlined how aggressive the cancer is. The odds were stacked against someone from the start and she supported calls from Pancreatic Cancer UK for a national diagnosis strategy and awareness-raising for the public and clinicians.

“She’d been a little off-colour at Christmas, but, like so many patients who don’t know that these symptoms are masking something deadly, she put off going to the GP. When she did go, no-one recognised the symptoms….16% of pancreatic cancer patients visit their GP seven or more times before getting a diagnosis. A few days after Christmas, she went to the GP again, and they didn’t know exactly what was wrong but they sent her straight to hospital. It was over the new year period, so the disease still wasn’t spotted for too long. My grandmother was left calling out in delirium because of the pain, and when the symptoms were finally understood and the fantastic palliative care team came on board, she died three days later.”
-Delyth Jewell AM

Caroline Jones AM (BXP, South Wales West) became aware of pancreatic cancer when a benign tumour was removed from her pancreas 30 years ago; two-thirds of adults are unaware of the symptoms. Neil McEvoy AM (Ind, South Wales Central) noted with some optimism that fast-track surgery in England was showing promise.

Minister open-minded on specialist surgical centre

Health Minister, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth), quoted figures which bear out how important it is to get an early diagnosis, as one-year survival rates for Stage 1 pancreatic cancer at 60% compared to a 28% survival rate overall.

Like other AMs, he noted the importance of surgery as opposed to drugs in treating some types of cancer and he would keep the idea of a specialist surgical centre on the table subject to advice:

“On the proposal about having a specific centre, I’ve listened and I will ask the clinicians at the Wales Cancer Network to consider that further, to give me advice to go into our cancer delivery plan for Wales and the work of the implementation group to understand what that would mean and the benefit that could provide for people in Wales.”
– Health Minister, Vaughan Gething

Lowther Road, Cathays, Cardiff. Picture by Jeremy Segrott. (CC BY 2.0)

Tackling congestion key to sustaining bus services

This week’s short debate came from Mark Reckless AM (BXP, South Wales east) on the subject of bus services.

A vicious circle of congestion and fare increases

Mark Reckless noted from correspondence that the average speed of buses in Wales has fallen by 7% in the last two years and with every 10% drop in average speed, running costs increase by 8%.

“….as well as having buses that we want people to use to reduce congestion, the effect of that congestion, in turn, can be to reduce bus usage, because those buses slow down, they become more expensive to operate, and, if prices go up – and the average fare had increased by 6% in the year to March 2018, and I think went up 3.6% in the following year – that, in turn, reduces bus usage further. It’s a vicious circle.”
– Mark Reckless AM

Buses were often essential and cost-effective for certain groups and if bus services are not supported, it can lead to increased isolation. In some places, like Ebbw Vale, the frequency of bus services has more than halved.

There was some good news, with Welsh bus services still being relatively well-used despite lower overall use compared to England and Scotland. In Wales, the number of bus passengers has only declined by 0.3% over the last five years compared to 11% in Scotland and 5.2% in English shires.

He said the jury was out on a number of proposals included in the bus services white paper, particularly with regard to local authority control and bus franchising and whether some councils will have the expertise to be able to cope with it.

Buses central to improving public transport

Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South), said bus services were well placed to respond to sudden changes in demand for public transport due to their inherent flexibility and lower cost compared to rail.

“Bus priority measures are hugely important and Mark Reckless has identified the need for bus services to operate in a timely and reliable fashion. We have found that the number one reason that determines whether somebody chooses to take a bus or their car is whether a bus is reliable and punctual and offers the ability to get to their destination in less time than their private motor vehicle. And so….we are investing very heavily indeed in dedicated bus lanes and in bus corridors and we’re piloting demand-responsive transport schemes.”
– Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates

The goal is to see a long-term gradual increase in the number of bus journeys and the Welsh Government’s measures have already resulted in a measure of stability – as mentioned earlier. A Bill to re-regulate bus services, stemming from the white paper, is set to be tabled in 2020.

The Senedd’s central funnel

Senedd requests further work on measures to improve lobbying transparency

The Motion (Final/Amended Version)

The Senedd:

  • Notes it’s the only national legislature in the UK without a lobbyist register.
  • Calls upon the Assembly Commission to provide an update on the actions it’s taken since the publication of the Standards Committee report on lobbying in January 2018.
  • Welcomes the intention of the Standards Committee to give further consideration to lobbying before the end of the fifth Assembly.

Stink of corruption?

Caroline Jones AM (BXP, South Wales West) accepted lobbying was a legitimate part of a healthy democracy and was often the main avenue for advocacy for certain causes and to properly inform decision-makers.

She went on to mention some lobbying scandals involving the UK Government in the 1990s and 2000s, which resulted in a statutory register to tackle a “revolving door” culture where politicians leave office and find work in lobbying firms.

When she claimed a previous Labour Cabinet was “available for hire by lobbyists”, former junior UK Minister, Huw Irranca-Davies AM (Lab, Ogmore),  considered it an abuse of parliamentary privilege (you can say anything in the chamber without the risk of civil or criminal claims).

Andrew RT Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central) said that while he supports the principle behind the debate, he’s never come across any lobbying malpractice and nobody has ever come to him asking for a lobbying register:

“I have to say, generally, in 12 years of work in this Assembly, both in committee work and standing as an AM, and as former leader of the Welsh Conservative group, I can genuinely believe and stand here with integrity in saying that all the interactions that I’ve had with lobbyists, with constituents, have always been in the best interests of what those individuals and organisations are seeking to promote.”
– Andrew RT Davies AM

He thought it was better dealt with by the Standards Committee – of which he’s a member. Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South Wales West) later added that his party’s official position is in favour of a register.

An ongoing dialogue

Chair of the Standards Committee, Jayne Bryant AM (Lab, Newport West), said her committee’s report was only an interim position and part of an ongoing process. Ministerial diaries are now being published quarterly and she mentioned that a pilot scheme for AMs was in development.

Spurning the opportunity to make a case for a lobbying register, Neil McEvoy AM (Ind, South Wales Central) went on a score-settling tirade against other AMs (the full list including Carwyn Jones, Leanne Wood, Adam Price and, completely at random, Alun Davies) as well as the black heart of all that is evil in Welsh politics – Deryn. All lobbyists were “z-class bullies” and he took exception to being called a liar and a bully himself.

Deputy Minister & Chief Whip, Jane Hutt AM (Lab, Vale of Glamorgan), said the responsibility ultimately lie with the Standards Committee on how to take things forward.

The motion was carried by 41 votes to 1.

 

Picture by Timisu. Modified by Ifan Morgan Jones.

Senedd & Elections Bill scrapes through meaning votes at 16 in 2021

AMs have their own definition of what “historic” means, but there was another self-proclaimed historic moment yesterday afternoon with the final vote on the Senedd & Elections Bill – the first stage in a two-stage process of electoral reform which will likely run into the Sixth Senedd.

Strengthening the foundations of democracy

Llywydd, Elin Jones (Plaid, Ceredigion), ran through some of the key elements of the Bill, including changing the name of the legislature, lowering the voting age to 16, changes to disqualification criteria and other changes such as granting voting rights to qualifying foreign nationals. It was a vote to “strengthen the foundations of our parliamentary democracy here in Wales.”

The Conservatives took exception to one element of the Bill – extending voting rights to foreign nationals, which they believed was being forced through with little scrutiny:

“….in introducing the right for foreign nationals to vote, this Bill, in our view, becomes unsupportable. It’s a major change to a Commission Bill that the Commission did not want. And I do remind people that this novel idea is not common practice anywhere else, as far I’m aware, and it also brings with it the right to stand for this institution, and presumably hold office in it. It’s been completely unscrutinised, introduced by the Government without scrutiny, introduced at Stage 2. It’s quite a shocking thing to do on a constitutional Bill that requires….a supermajority. It’s quite insulting, frankly, to those who have genuine concerns about the lack of scrutiny.”
– David Melding AM (Con, South Wales Central)

While the Llywydd rejected the idea that it’s being forced through – as the required amendments were passed at Stage 3 – with the withdrawal of Tory support and without Brexit Party support for changes to the voting age as well, the vote was set to become a lot tighter.

Plaid Cymru remained disappointed at the bilingual name. While they would support the Bill as it was, Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn) said it was a missed opportunity to show the Welsh language belonged to everyone, like the national anthem. He blamed a lack of confidence or even fear.

A compromise between strongly held views

Responding on behalf of the government the Counsel General, Jeremy Miles (Lab, Neath), described the Bill as “a compromise between very strongly held views” – including the name issue, responsibilities concerning the Electoral Commission and the issue of foreign voting rights.

In light of Conservative complaints, he pointed to the consultation which showed that 66% of respondents supported all legal residents in Wales having full voting rights regardless of nationality or citizenship.

Under the requirements of the Wales Act 2017, the Bill needed a minimum of two-thirds of AMs (40 AMs) to vote in favour – and it happened….just.

Minister not concerned about allowing different councils to choose different electoral systems

Steel-maker confirms 1,000 UK job loses

Tata Steel’s European division has confirmed that 1,000 jobs – said to be mainly office-based – are to be cut from its UK operations by March 2021.

Steelworkers union Community said the announcement was poorly timed and called for Tata to reconsider its strategy, blaming the lack of a Plan B following its collapsed merger with Thyssenkrupp.

The Economy & Transport Minister said: “Tata Steel has previously confirmed that they intend to seek to avoid compulsory redundancies and I will be impressing on the company the importance of standing by this commitment.”

Swansea regeneration work to start

Work has begun on a £135million regeneration project in Swansea city centre, which will eventually include a new arena, housing, offices and retail space. Funding was released by the Welsh Government to build a bridge linking the arena site on the waterfront with the city centre.

A Swansea Council cabinet member told BBC Wales: “Swansea needs to reinvent itself, like all cities throughout the UK. Retailing has changed so, therefore, you’ve got to have the leisure attraction, people living and working in the city to make it a vibrant city.”

Black bag waste cut by almost a fifth in six years

The amount of domestic landfill waste produced by Welsh households has reportedly fallen by 17% since 2013 according to the latest waste management figures.

The proportion of domestic waste reused or recycled remained at 63% – the same percentage as 2018.

There were calls for more to be done to address plastic waste. Surfers Against Sewage told BBC Wales: “every time I was walking on the beach I saw the tide bring in new plastic”.

Increase in domestic violence reports

The number of reports of domestic violence in Wales has increased by 83% since 2015, with the North Wales Police area seeing the sharpest increase overall. In total there were just over 41,500 reports during 2018-19 compared to 18,960 in 2015-16.

The increase was said to be down to increased confidence in reporting domestic abuse incidents. The figures were published days after a report from the Wales Audit Office picked out weaknesses in domestic abuse services since the introduction of the Domestic Violence Act 2015.

No secret recording devices found at the Senedd

The Llywydd confirmed to BBC Wales that no secret recording devices have been found on the Assembly estate following an internal security sweep which was launched after an AM recorded the private conversations of the former Standards Commissioner and his staff.

The Assembly Commission confirmed that a police investigation was still ongoing.

 

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Simon Gruffydd
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I agree with the Conservatives protesting the extension of the vote to foreigners. You’d think that retaining the Welsh dimension of our political institutions would be an issue for Plaid Cymru. But no. Apparently they are pleased with a Senedd incorporating everyone who comes to the territory known as Wales, rather than a Senedd for the Welsh nation. Simply put, this is open border extremism. Regarding the increase in domestic violence reports in Wales. Have the Welsh suddenly become more violent? Or has this something to do with new arrivals to our country? We have a right to know. With… Read more »

Walter Hunt
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Walter Hunt

David Melding is one of the Senedd’s more interesting members and I share his reported concerns re the extension of voting rights to more foreign residents. Plaid Cymru seem to want to take every opportunity to demonstrate they are not a “blood and soil” nationalist party. OK-ish. But the danger in this endeavor is they may create platforms for people whose agendas may not be by Plaid Cymru’s or shared by the wider independence movement.

Neil McEvoy
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Neil McEvoy

A poor reflection of what I said. The Z class bullying referred to the way I was leaned on by Plaid Cymru to stop asking questions about Deryn. The author failed to report my microphone again being turned off and the terms “liar” , “lying” & “bully” being acceptable. My saying Carwyn Jones had a strange relationship with the truth was worthy of cutting my microphone. This nonsense is always routinely ignored by your correspondent. It is a failure of journalism. No mention of Plaid voting against a register for lobbyists either. Not good enough.

Walter Hunt
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Walter Hunt

Votes at 16, extending voting rights to more people from outside Wales. What about extending voting rights to Welsh exiles? Very often people are forced to leave because of the lack of opportunities in their homeland. Is the WG frit of the votes of these Welsh people because they might just be more than ready to give them a good kicking for the policy failings that exiled them from Cymru and Cymry?