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45% rise in people seeking mental health support post-lockdown

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An NHS mental health and wellbeing service has seen a 45% increase in the number of people seeking support after lockdown restrictions were eased across the country.

SilverCloud Wales is a free online therapy service designed to help people aged 16 and over, experiencing mild to moderate anxiety, depression or stress, manage their mental health and wellbeing.

There’s no need to be referred by a GP – people can sign up and access the NHS Wales service anytime, anywhere, on their smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer.

New data from SilverCloud Wales shows that 45% more people signed up for the service after schools and non-essential retailers reopened on the 12th April compared with the two weeks prior.

The same data also shows a 14% rise in people signing up for help with managing social anxiety after lockdown restriction eased on 12th April.

The data indicates the existence of post-lockdown anxiety and that people need help managing the transition from lockdown to ‘normal’ life.

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1 in 4 adults struggle with mental health challenges, like feeling low, anxious or stressed. and it was anticipated the demand for services would increase due to the impact of COVID19.

In a bid to meet that demand, and following a pilot in Powys, SilverCloud Wales online therapy service was rolled out across Wales in September 2020. 

Fionnuala Clayton, Psychological Assistant and Clinical Online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Co-ordinator for SilverCloud Wales, said services like SilverCloud Wales were proving to be a lifeline for many.

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SilverCloud has seen a 45% increase in people seeking support for their mental health post lockdown (Image: Liza Summer / Pexels.com)

She says: “SilverCloud Wales offers people an online space to explore their personal challenges and experiences in a safe and confidential way.

“Returning to ‘normal’ can be just as challenging as entering lockdown.

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“While we have all faced different challenges depending on our age, vulnerability status, employment and social circles, what we all have is a collective understanding that Covid has had a real impact on our daily lives.

“Common challenges we are hearing from people using the service include:

  • Finding a work-life balance for those who have worked continuously through the pandemic, including those working from home.
  • Returning to work and how to cope with reservations for those who have been in and out due to restrictions, furlough and shielding.
  • Concerns about returning to ‘normal’, socialising, and the rise of social anxiety symptoms relating to Covid measures being relaxed
  • Loneliness and feeling isolated, and the impact the pandemic has had on our connections with loved ones.
  • Those who are struggling with routine, low mood and sometimes consequently selfesteem and body image concerns.”
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SilverCloud Wales uses Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to help people manage their mental health and wellbeing. CBT works by encouraging people to challenge the way they think and behave so they’re better equipped to deal with life’s problems.

The service offers help for anxiety, depression, stress, sleep, money worries & more. Users choose one of the easy-to-use, interactive online programmes to complete over 12 weeks and for best results are advised to use the service 15-20 minutes a day, three to four times a week.

Although an online self-help service, SilverCloud Wales is backed up and supported by a team of psychologists and online cognitive behavioural therapy co-ordinators.

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Cognitive Behaviour Therapy helps people manage their mental health and wellbeing (Image: energepic.com)

Ms Clayton says: “SilverCloud Wales users are supported through their chosen online programme by SilverCloud Supporters who have psychological backgrounds and know how to get the best out of the programme.

“Alongside our main programmes, SilverCloud Supporters can unlock additional modules if we feel a user needs more support in certain areas.

“These modules are truly wonderful in terms of additional support. The communication and relationship module is particularly useful in understanding the communication styles of ourselves and others, and it’s become even more important that we understand these as our communication and methods of contact have become much more virtual.

“No-one should feel like they are alone with their problems. It has been fantastic to see SilverCloud Wales online therapy reach so many people, not just across Powys, where it started, but now available to any patient or resident in Wales.”

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Ms Clayton said Mental Health Awareness Week, which runs 10-16th May, 2021, is a timely reminder for people to prioritise their wellbeing post-lockdown.

She says: “Use the resources you have to help you manage in times of stress. Resources can be a number of different things, including environmental, such as green space and leisure facilities, and social, such as family and friends.

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“Making connections with the outside world and learning new techniques to manage how you’re feeling can really help.”

To find out more and sign up, visit: https://nhswales.silvercloudhealth.com/signup/.


SilverCloud Wales is supporting Mental Health Awareness Week, 10-16th May, 2021.

Here are three mental health and wellbeing tips from the SilverCloud Wales team.

ONE

“When stressed, it’s common to drop all of the things that keep us well, such as exercising or spending time with family and friends. Use the resources at your disposal to help you manage in times of stress. Resources can be: environmental (green space, leisure facilities etc); social (family, friends etc); financial (steady income, savings etc); personal (e.g. your personal strengths). You can find more on this in our Space from Stress programme.” 
Fionnuala, SilverCloud Wales.

TWO

“Practise self-care by giving yourself something to look forward to every day. This can be anything from enjoying your favourite brew with a biscuit, sitting down to watch your favourite movie, going for a walk or listening to your favourite album – whatever you find enjoyment in. Reach out if you are feeling alone – to a family member, friend or even 24/7 helplines like the CALL Mental Health Helpline for Wales. There are people who will always want to hear from you.” 
Hollie, SilverCloud Wales.

THREE

“Self-care is crucial during a time of crisis. Looking after yourself is not a luxury, it is an essential part of maintaining your energy levels and your resilience to stress. As lockdown eases, why not spend some time thinking about the things you need to do to look after yourself, as well as the things you can realistically do in the current circumstances. Perhaps you could focus on starting a new exercise routine, take up a new hobby, or call a friend/family member for a chat? This season, look after yourself first.” Catrin, SilverCloud Wales.

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(Lead image: Andrew Neel / Pexels.com)

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Neath Port Talbot

Wales’ first Milk Bank for newborn babies opens in Swansea Bay

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A milk bank has been set up for the first time in Wales to help ill or premature babies and, over time, mothers facing feeding difficulties.

The new milk bank hub, based in Singleton Hospital, Swansea, is supplying human milk to babies being cared for in hospital, with much of the milk being donated by Welsh mothers.

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Donor milk can help ill or premature babies in supporting their feeding, growth and development and in preventing complications, while also supporting mothers who need time to establish their own milk supply.

Until now, hospitals in Wales had received donor milk directly from milk banks in England.

As the milk hub begins operating to its full capacity, babies across south Wales will be able to receive milk from the hub in Singleton Hospital, as it will supply donor milk to the other health boards in south Wales.

Having a milk hub based locally will also allow more women from Wales to donate their milk to help support mothers and babies who need it.

Taylor Pearson was the first mother to put herself forward as a donor after giving birth to her daughter at the University Hospital of Wales, in Cardiff, in January 2021.

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The 29-year-old, from Cardiff, decided to donate her excess breast milk to help other mothers who may be experiencing difficulties with breastfeeding.

“After my daughter was born last year I found that I had an excessive supply of breastmilk which was more than she needed,” she said.

“I asked staff at the hospital if they had any milk bank facilities after reading about it online and I was told there wasn’t anything in Wales.

“I contacted Hearts Milk Bank, just north of London, who told me that a hub would be opening in Wales. Closer to the time they contacted me and asked if I still wanted to donate and I said yes.

“I didn’t want to waste my breast milk. I know quite a few people who have had babies in NICU (neonatal intensive care units) and I know it can be quite difficult to get your supply to breastfeed, especially when you’re separated from your baby.

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“If people really want to breastfeed but are struggling then this can help.”

Each donor goes through a screening process, which includes questionnaires and blood tests to rule out any infections.

They then provide at least two litres of milk over 10 weeks, which is then pasteurised, before being frozen and stored ready to be given to babies.

Taylor added: “It’s giving families who have their heart set on breastmilk more options to feed their baby when not having access to milk is the only reason they can’t do so.”

Helen James, matron for neonatal services, said: “Exclusive breast milk feeding can improve long-term development outcomes and donor milk is often used as a bridging gap while lactation is being established.

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“It’s a fantastic opportunity for Swansea Bay and a privilege to host this hub to support neonatal units across Wales.”

Blood Bikes Wales, a charity that provides a free courier service to the NHS, had previously been transporting donor milk from England to Singleton Hospital for babies in need.

The charity will continue to deliver the supplies to Swansea and to each of the health board regions in Wales to make it easier for mothers and babies to receive the donor milk.

Dr Sujoy Banerjee, consultant neonatologist and clinical director for children and young people services, said: “The first human milk bank hub in Wales will offer an invaluable resource for the care of premature and sick newborn babies, preventing complications, and improving outcomes. 

“It will provide equity and easy access of human milk for clinical services in south Wales and will make it easier for lactating mothers to donate their excess milk for the benefit of many babies. 

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“The project is a great example of a social, healthcare and research collaboration and will raise awareness and promote breastfeeding in our communities. 

“We are very proud to be given the opportunity to host this project.”

The hub has been launched thanks to research and funding from Swansea University, which will study the impact it has on supporting families.

Professor Amy Brown, director for the centre of Lactation, Infant Feeding and Translation at Swansea University, said: “We were delighted to have been awarded research funding from Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) to develop our infant feeding research.

“Part of this funding enabled the set up and delivery of the hub alongside a programme of research to examine its impact within the hospital and community.

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“Going forward we will be conducting a number of research studies to better understand how donor milk can support families including when babies are born prematurely but also where breastfeeding might not be possible, such as when a mother is undergoing cancer treatment.

“We are particularly interested in how donor milk may support parental mental health, both through receiving it for a baby or from the experiences of breastfeeding mothers being able to donate their milk to support other families.”

 The university was helped to launch the first hub in Wales by the Human Milk Foundation, a charity that supports parents to feed their babies with human milk.

As part of her work at Imperial College to research the impacts of human milk banks, Dr Natalie Shenker co-founded the UK’s first independent, non-profit human milk bank, Hearts Milk Bank, which will manage the hub in Swansea.

“The aim of the charity is to make sure there’s national equity for families to both receive and donate milk,” she said.

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“Wales hasn’t had a milk bank service of its own for many years, and that has really affected how many mums are able to donate, and how hospitals can use donor milk, if there are challenges in accessing sufficient supplies when needed.

“We know it can be a wonderful thing for mums to be able to donate their milk to help other families.

“It can be utterly heartbreaking for women to have to throw away their milk, particularly for mothers with babies in hospital, and those whose babies sadly do not survive.”

Gareth Howells, executive director of nursing, said: “Everyone at Swansea Bay is committed to building a truly equitable service where families can donate and access donor human milk.

“We are very proud to be opening our milk hub at Singleton Hospital.

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“We are also looking forward to helping more families to receive and donate human milk and to growing the hub in the coming years.”

To find out more about the work of the Human Milk Foundation and Hearts Milk Bank and find out more about donating your milk visit their website here https://heartsmilkbank.org/donating 

Lead image: Dr Natalie Shenker (left), who co-founded Hearts Milk Bank with Gillian Weaver (right), with Professor Amy Brown of Swansea University (Image: Swansea Bay NHS)

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Neath Port Talbot

GP hails new paramedic team as ‘game-changing’ for patients and families

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A service which sees specialist paramedics supporting people in their last days of life has been hailed as game-changing by a Swansea GP.

Dr Chris Jones of Llansamlet Surgery said the new service streamlined the process with obvious benefits for patients and families.

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Last October, the Welsh Ambulance Service Trust (WAST) appointed its first dedicated palliative care paramedics.

Following training at Morriston Hospital, the four-strong team now works with Swansea Bay’s specialist palliative care team, dividing their time between patients in the community and those in hospitals and hospices.

Palliative care involves the relief of symptoms and stress for people with a life-shortening illness, and helping them plan for the future.

The specialist paramedics are also there for relatives, working alongside them to help families support their loved one’s care.

The pilot service, the first of its kind in the UK, commenced in December and, said Dr Jones, was already making a real difference.

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“It’s a daunting area. Even though we deal with such cases on a daily basis, it sometimes needs specialist input and liaison with a service that has more specialised knowledge and understanding.

“It is an area of the utmost importance. It is a very critical time in people’s lives, and their families’,” he said.

“It’s not something that can be delayed. These are situations that have to be dealt with on the same day. Having the palliative care paramedics available has been game-changing.”

Dr Jones said that, previously, someone from the surgery or one of the palliative care nurses or doctors would have gone out to the patient’s home and liaised to make a plan, but that would often take time.

Now, he said, it was all done on the same day, sometimes within the hour. “I phone the advice line and speak to one of the palliative care clinicians,” said Dr Jones.

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“They provide advice about what needs to be done at my end. If appropriate they will contact the paramedics who will go out to the patient’s home.

“They liaise back with the observations and examination findings, and with specialist advice if it’s needed.

“We can arrange for any prescriptions and drugs charts to be provided to the family. It’s good for the patient, and the family.

“The paramedics can provide that extra support to the families. They link with the GPs and the consultant and act as the face of many services, rather than have a GP and a palliative care consultant, then possibly the GP again.

“They are bringing services together to support people.”

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Dr Jones said the service also allowed continuity of care, by involving one GP, one palliative care consultant, and one paramedic.

“Previously I may have been involved to begin with but if I was not available the following day, another GP would pick it up. 

“It has streamlined the whole process, with obvious benefits for patients.”

Another benefit is that the paramedics can help make the team available more often when very ill people and their families may have the greatest need, including weekends when other services may be harder to access. 

For some years there has been a specialist nurse available seven days a week and support from on call specialist doctors.

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But the paramedics add a new strand to what’s provided and makes it easier to respond more quickly each day.

Dr Idris Baker

Swansea Bay Palliative Medicine Consultant, Dr Idris Baker, helped trained the specialist paramedics.

He said: “We’re so pleased to see how these paramedics are fitting into the team and grateful for support from the ambulance trust as well as the health board to get them up and running.

“They add a string to our bow. We have contact with lots of people at home every year across Neath Port Talbot and Swansea.

“Many of them we can see face-to-face but we haven’t always been able to do that as quickly as we wanted or as they needed.

 “The paramedics’ responsiveness and their skills in assessing patients and their situations are already so helpful in guiding how we support district nurses and GPs in their care.

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“And they are so enthusiastic in how they go about it.”

Ed O’Brian

Ed O’Brian, the Welsh Ambulance Service’s End of Life Care Lead, said: “We’re so pleased to hear that this joint initiative between WAST and Swansea Bay has been so well received, and that’s it’s benefiting not only patients but also other health care professionals.

“When we introduced this new role it was the first of its kind, an unproven concept, so we’re constantly measuring and evaluating to ensure it is bringing maximum benefit.

“Receiving this positive feedback from Dr Jones is really pleasing to read.”

WAST says it hopes to build on the success of the role first piloted in Swansea Bay by expanding the service to other areas of Wales.

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Coronavirus

First Minister says phased easing of Covid restrictions in Wales to continue

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Wales will complete the move to alert level zero on 28 January, First Minister Mark Drakeford confirmed today, unless the public health situation changes for the worse.

He said the phased plan to gradually relax the alert level two measures and move back to alert level zero will continue.

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The latest public health data suggests Wales has passed the peak of the omicron wave and coronavirus cases are falling back to levels similar to those seen earlier in the autumn. There have also been reductions in the number of Covid-19 patients in hospital.

From Friday 21 January, Wales will move to alert level zero for all outdoor activities.

This means:

  • Crowds will be able to return to outdoor sporting events.
  • There will be no limits on the number of people who can take part in outdoor activities and events.
  • Outdoor hospitality will be able to operate without the additional measures required introduced in December, such as the rule of six and 2m social distancing
  • The Covid Pass will continue to be required for entry to larger outdoor events attended by more than 4,000 people, if unseated, or 10,000 people when seated.
  • The Covid Pass is required in all cinemas, theatres and concert halls which are currently open.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “The latest figures show we have passed the omicron peak and we can continue to lift the alert level two protections as part of our careful and phased plan.

“We will lift the limits on the number of people who can gather for outdoor events. We remain cautiously confident the public health situation is heading in the right direction and next week we will be able to complete the move to alert level zero, unless the situation changes for the worse.

“We are in this position thanks to the efforts of everyone in Wales and our fantastic vaccination programme. It is important that everyone continues to follow the rules and the guidance to help keep themselves and their loved ones safe, including taking up the offer of a booster vaccine if they haven’t already done so.”

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On Friday 28 January, Wales will complete the move to alert level zero.

This means:

  • Nightclubs will re-open.
  • Businesses, employers and other organisations must continue to undertake a specific coronavirus risk assessment and take reasonable measures to minimise the spread of coronavirus.
  • The general requirement of 2m social distancing in all premises open to the public and workplaces will be removed.
  • The rule of six will no longer apply to gatherings in regulated premises, such as hospitality, cinemas and theatres.
  • Licensed premises will no longer need to only provide table service and collect contact details.
  • Working from home will remain part of advice from the Welsh Government but it will no longer be a legal requirement.

The Covid Pass will continue to be required to enter larger indoor events, nightclubs, cinemas, theatres and concert halls.

The self-isolation rules for everyone who tests positive for Covid and the face-covering rules, which apply in most public indoor places will remain in force after 28 January.

The next three-weekly review of the coronavirus regulations will be carried out by 10 February, when the Welsh Government will review all the measures at alert level zero.

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