Today’s Senedd roundup: NHS “must do better” to deal with winter pressures

Photo by HHA124L and licensed under CC BY 2.0

Owen Donovan, Senedd Home

The Motion (Amended/Final Version)

The Senedd:

  • Notes the latest NHS performance statistics and regrets the continued failure to achieve performance targets across a range of specialities and services.
  • Regrets the cancellation of planned operations to deal with winter pressures and believes it is possible to plan for winter pressures whilst ensuring routine procedures continue.
  • Believes that NHS and social care staff should be congratulated for their performance under difficult circumstances.
  • Recognises the impact a decade of unjust UK driven austerity has on the resources available to fund public services and believes that improvements in the NHS can only be sustained in the long run if NHS and social care work together equally; investment continues across both systems to support people to stay out of hospital; there remains a focus on the recruitment, retention and wellbeing of staff.
  • Welcomes additional resources for NHS and social care services as a result of real-terms increases to the Welsh block grant.

Moving on from denial

Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn) noted that the Welsh Government didn’t amend references to regretting poor performance – which was a sign that Labour was moving on from denial. Too much money has been spent “firefighting” in hospital care instead of preventing ill-health and preventing bed-blocking.

“All the performance measures that are regularly published refer, it seems, to secondary care, even though their failings there in secondary care very, very often reflect failures in primary care, failure to invest in social care. And let’s imagine how the conversation would change if as well as monthly reporting on the failure to hit waiting time targets, we also had monthly reporting on the impact that cuts to local services and local authority funding is having on the ability to adapt people’s homes on time, or to put care packages in place on time.”
– Rhun ap Iorwerth AM

Shadow Health Minister, Angela Burns AM (Con, Carms. W. & S. Pembs.), fundamentally agreed with the Plaid motion, but the Conservatives couldn’t support it as the government was yet again, in their amendments, trying to shift blame away from themselves and towards austerity when Labour has run the Welsh NHS for 20 years. The key to dealing with this was to consider all elements of a person’s care – from GPs right through to social services and housing – not just trying to fix specific parts of the NHS.

Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales) noted Betsi Cadwaladr health boards’ five years in special measures which has seen the creeping privatisation of certain services and unpopular proposals for working practices which have impacted staff morale.

Jenny Rathbone AM (Lab, Cardiff Central) quoted figures from the NHS Confederation which suggests one in five A&E patients could be treated somewhere else, while Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda) reminded the chamber that despite debates around waiting times being a little dry, there were people behind the figures whose quality of life was being negatively impacted.

Caroline Jones AM (BXP, South Wales West) didn’t think this was about money at all as Wales was already spending more per head on health than either England or Scotland; it was how the money was being spent.

Relentless demand across the whole system this winter

On behalf of the government, Deputy Minister for Health & Social Services, Julie Morgan (Lab, Cardiff North), said the NHS has faced one of its most difficult and pressured environments on record, with relentless demand across the whole system – though this wasn’t unique to Wales as it’s happened across the whole UK.

Cancellations were a last resort:

“Each patient is assessed based on their clinical need. If necessary, planned admissions may have to be postponed….but care is provided at a later date. Any postponements are a last resort to ensure that patient safety is maintained and prioritised. And despite unscheduled care pressures, planned care activity continued across Wales in the early days of January 2020, with around 70% of the planned activity undertaken while still meeting the emergency demand.”
– Deputy Minister for Health & Social Services, Julie Morgan

It was still a Welsh Government commitment to bring health and social services closer together.

Vote

The motion was carried by 34 votes to 16.

Photo by Reimund Bertrams from Pixabay

Constitutional change needed to ensure the UK survives after Brexit

The Motion

The Senedd:

  • Notes that the people of Wales voted to leave the EU in the referendum on the 23rd June 2016 and believes the outcome of referendums should always be implemented.
  • Acknowledges that Wales, along with the rest of the UK, will leave the EU at 23.00 on 31st January 2020.
  • Recognises the potential benefits to Wales, of the UK’s departure from the European Union, including striking new free trade agreements; creating a fairer immigration system which does not discriminate against people based on where they may come from; establishing a new approach to regional investment.
  • Calls upon the Welsh Government to engage positively with the UK Government as the UK leaves the EU.

Interests to both parties to get a trade deal done

Shadow External Affairs & Brexit Minister, Darren Millar AM (Con, Clwyd West), ran through the usual Leaver tropes – biggest democratic participation yet, untold opportunities, respect the result etc.

With the usual Brexit pleasantries out of the way, it was time to look forward and he was optimistic a permanent deal could be concluded by the end of the year on the basis that it’s in the interests of both the UK and EU. It was also an opportunity to rethink how structural funding is spent, with more details on the proposed UK Shared Prosperity Fund forthcoming.

Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales) criticised what he considered to be scaremongering over funding, schemes like Erasmus+ and putting the NHS on the table in trade deals.

“I think there is a role for the UK Government, and also a very full role for the Welsh Government. And those roles will be different than they were within the EU structures. And, overall, I would be happy to see something where the relative powers and influence of the UK Government on the spending of regional development money coming from the UK in Wales is no greater than that that was taken by the EU, but I think we should have a pragmatic approach to try and make that work.”
– Mark Reckless AM (BXP, South Wales East)

David Rees AM (Lab, Aberavon) said that while the referendum result is being properly implemented, the means of Brexit is now more important to the future of Wales. There had to be a role for the devolved administrations in future trade agreements – but there were already hints that trade deals won’t be anywhere near as easy as the UK Government thought, given recent suggestions a US trade deal could be scuppered by the UK Government’s decision to allow Huawei involvement in 5G.

Dr Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South Wales West) thought this was an opportunity to turn a Westminster power grab into a power gain and to fully use flexibilities from being outside the EU – on state aid, VAT, procurement rules, immigration – to Wales’ benefit.

Looking forward, not back

Replaying on behalf of the government, Counsel General & Brexit Minister, Jeremy Miles (Lab, Neath) wanted to look forward, not back. He accepted that a Norwegian-style arrangement, favoured by the Welsh Government, was no longer possible but the goal has to be minimising the number of trade barriers with the EU.

The two things the Welsh Government would like to see, going forward, is a meaningful role for the devolved administrations in EU and trade deal negotiations and, secondly, meaningful constitutional change to ensure the UK can survive Brexit.

“….in recognising the opportunities that leaving the EU will provide, including the potential to secure a closer relationship with other nations who trade, and to recognise clearly that we are leaving the EU, we have focused in this amendment on the constitutional challenges that will arise. We must all now turn our attention to those.”
– Counsel General & Brexit Minister, Jeremy Miles

Vote

An amended version of the motion which recognised benefits and challenges from leaving the EU and calling for constitutional reform of the UK after Brexit was approved by 27-16 with 7 abstentions.

Welsh music needs to go back to its roots

I’m sure it was purely a coincidence, but this week’s short debate was led by Rhianon Passmore AM (Lab, Islwyn) on the same day the Welsh Government’s new Creative Wales body was launched.

“What good is proudly displaying to the world a fantastic blooming flower if those roots are in danger of slowly dying?”

Rhianon Passmore said the growth of the Welsh screen industry has been one of devolution’s success stories, having increased its economic contribution by 217% since 1999. Many Welsh productions – including those originally broadcast in the Welsh language – have succeeded beyond Wales.

However, that aside one area close to her heart is school music, which has been affected by cuts.

“I believe natural justice demands equality of opportunity….Nobody can guarantee equality of outcome when a child picks up a musical instrument or a vocal tuition offer. We know that. But every child, surely in Wales, irrespective of where they live and irrespective of their family wealth or their ability must be given an equal playing field and opportunity to learn.”
– Rhianon Passmore AM

A music services study is due to be published soon, but there was an urgent need for Wales to develop a properly-funded Welsh music strategy so all students in Wales can access music services uniformly and without restriction based on finances or council cuts.

Mick Antoniw AM (Lab, Pontypridd) noted that culture, music and dance can promote peace and friendship around the world, while Mike Hedges AM (Lab, Swansea East) added that some Welsh choirs were world-renowned and have performed at major venues globally.

No point in a creative industries strategy without creative people

Deputy Minister for Culture, Tourism & Sport, Dafydd Elis-Thomas (Ind, Dwyfor Meironnydd), said the creative industries made a unique contribution to the Welsh economy as well as society, creating a national brand for Wales on the international stage.

“I will certainly be willing to co-operate with my colleague, the Education Minister….and any other Members….who wish to pursue the possibility of a new strategic approach. Because I do recognise that unless we have a strategic approach, there is no point in having a creative industries strategy if we don’t have the creative people, particularly in music, to fulfil that role.”
– Deputy Minister for Culture, Tourism & Sport, Dafydd Elis-Thomas

He said the experiences of some of the production companies which have worked in Wales was described as “excellent”, but beyond the screen industry, the Welsh Government was just as eager to support publishing – which, in the case of recent TV series like His Dark Materials – is often where major TV and film productions start.

In a nod to the Culture Committee’s current inquiry into live music, the Deputy Minister said the situation regarding the loss of live music venues was “complex” and not always down to finances – but without these venues, there wouldn’t be much of a musical life in Wales. A grassroots music venues fund will be vital to developing these venues.

Photo Arwel Parry under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Minister“will consider closing private school” unless shamed headteacher is sacked

Education Minister, Kirsty Williams (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnor), has threatened to suspend independent Ruthin School from providing full-time education unless its headteacher, Toby Belfield, is sacked.

Belfield – who’s been an outspoken critic of Welsh-medium education in the past and has been described as “the UK’s strictest headteacher” – kept his job in May 2019 despite sending sexually suggestive social media messages to female pupils at the school. The texts reportedly included references to pupils’ virginity, physique and sexuality.

Estyn reported that the school – which charges up to £35,000-a-year – doesn’t comply with standards of welfare, safety and health of pupils.

Independent schools are directly answerable to the Welsh Government and not local authorities, but the Minister doesn’t have any powers to dismiss headteachers. Instead, in a written statement the Minister said she could use powers to remove the school from the register of independent schools, effectively closing it.

Ruthin School said: “The Principal has not been carrying out his role whilst these investigations are ongoing. We are not in a position to share any further information at this stage but will do so as soon as we are able to.”

Photo Reno Beranger from Pixabay

Heroin addicts need quicker access to prescriptions

Researchers from the University of South Wales have called for faster access to prescription medications for recovering heroin addicts to prevent self-medication.

BBC Wales reports that some recovering addicts have returned to the street drugs to cope with withdrawal symptoms and there was often a delay between seeing a GP and being put on heroin replacements.

Prof. Katy Holloway said: “They present for treatment, they’ve got the courage to attend, let’s get them into treatment as quickly as possible.”

Senedd launches online consultation hub

The Assembly Commission recently launched Your Wales – an online consultation and political engagement forum.

At present, the site includes moderated, open public forums for subjects under investigation by the Senedd’s committees. It also allows users to ask questions and take part in surveys.

Users can register to give their views here.

Plaid Cymru: Young farmers losing route into the industry

Plaid Cymru revealed figures showing the amount of council-owned land – kept aside for young farmers starting their careers – has fallen by 10% in eight years. Councils are legally obliged to hold farms to stem a decline in farming dating back to the early 20th Century but budget cuts have forced councils to sell some farms off.

The WLGA said a rural council forum was “working to develop a rural deal” which could be used to support young farmers as a counterpart to city region deals.

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1. We live less than five miles from Rhuthun School and it’s not that long ago that the local newspaper was reporting that the headmaster had circulated his school’s pupils to warn them that any boyfriend/girlfriend relationships – hardly unusual among teenagers! – would be viewed as ground for expulsion because they were all there to learn and not to be diverted by romance. Which sits rather oddly in the context of these accusations alleged against him. 2. Living close to Rhuthun means that our ‘GIG’ services are provided under the umbrella of Betsi Cadwaladr UHB. My other half and… Read more »