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Health chief vows to keep services running through ‘one of the harshest winters we have ever faced’

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NHS Wales chief executive Andrew Goodall has warned the dual challenge of the Covid pandemic and other respiratory viruses will make this winter ‘one of the hardest we have ever faced’, as the NHS Wales Health and Social Care Winter Plan is published.

The Welsh Government have announced that there will be an extra £42m funding for social care, some of which will be used to help ease the pressure on hospital beds. This comes on top of £248m already announced for the NHS Covid recovery fund.

The social care investment will be used to improve hospital patient discharges, expand community services and reduce hospital re-admissions among the frail and vulnerable in an effort to ease pressures on bed capacity.

The Winter Plan will aim to help ensure emergency care is able to cope and minimise disruption to planned care.

Ahead of the winter pressures, Andrew Goodall said services needed to remain ready to respond to rapidly changing circumstances, as well as minimising time spent in hospital for those receiving care and supporting people to return home to continue their recovery.

Key priorities in the Winter Plan:

  • protecting people from Covid-19 through the vaccination programme,
  • keeping people well during higher levels of influenza and seasonal respiratory viruses,
  • maintaining the resilience of health and social care services,
  • responding to the mental health impact of the pandemic,
  • ensuring vulnerable groups have access to the treatment they require,
  • supporting the health and wellbeing of staff who have worked tirelessly during the pandemic
  • working with health and social care organisations to manage pressures across the system.

It comes after months of planning and significant investment in health and social care to mitigate the effects of the pandemic.

More than £248million has already been invested through the NHS recovery fund to help Health Boards tackle waiting times and transform the way they deliver services.

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Much of the funding will help services this winter, like non-urgent patient transport, which will help ease pressure on ambulance services and ensure patients can access the care they need

Other investments across Wales include:

  • £14.4m for planned care for Aneurin Bevan University Health Board
  • £8.2m for endoscopy at Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board
  • £2.5m for diagnostics endoscopy and £1.4m for diagnostics radiology at Cardiff and Vale University Health Board
  • £2.9m for ophthalmology at Hywel Dda University Health Board
  • £1.3m for radiology and £2m for endoscopy at Swansea Bay University Health Board

To support patients with urgent clinical needs, central recovery funds for cancer, ophthalmology and dermatology have also been established. This will ensure a focus on these key areas.

A further £25million is being invested in supporting the transformation of urgent and emergency care services to deliver the right care in the right place, first time. The Urgent Primary Care Centre at Royal Gwent Hospital demonstrates how services can work differently, allowing people to access out of hours advice, assessment and care closer to home. This centre will help reduce pressure on emergency departments during winter.

NHS Wales Chief Executive Andrew Goodall said: “We know this winter will be one of the hardest periods we have ever faced, as we face the twin challenges of the pandemic and respiratory viruses, but our Winter Plan will ensure essential services keep running

“Our services need to be agile and able to respond to those who need hospital care when their condition worsens, as well as providing support as close to home as possible to reduce their need to attend hospital to receive care.”

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Eluned Morgan MS

Health Minister Eluned Morgan said: “Winter is always a challenging period and the demands on our health and social care system have never been greater than this pandemic period. Our NHS will continue to deliver essential services and is doing everything it can to ensure planned care continues through this busy period. Everyone can play their part too by getting their Covid and flu jabs and thinking about the different options for getting the care they need.

“I am also announcing £42m of social care funding today. The pandemic has put the social care system under great strain and we believe investing in allowing people to access the right care at home will prevent unnecessary hospital admissions, speed up patient discharges and create much-needed additional bed capacity in our hospitals.

“With this plan and additional funding we can reduce disruption to planned care. However with the pressures on the system I don’t expect us to make real inroads into waiting times until the spring.

“But I am determined to tackle this issue and am very aware of what a difficult time it has been for those who have been waiting a long time for treatment.  Health Boards will continue to support those who are waiting for treatment.”

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Coronavirus

First Omicron variant COVID case confirmed in Wales

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A case of the Omicron variant of concern has been confirmed in Wales. The case is in the Cardiff and Vale University Health Board area and is linked to international travel.

In a statement, the Welsh Government said: “We are prepared to respond rapidly to emerging variants of concern and intensive investigations and robust public health action are being taken to slow any spread.

“The health impact of the Omicron variant is still being assessed. Currently there is no substantial evidence to suggest the Omicron variant will lead to a more severe form of illness but the data is being kept under constant review.

“As we better understand this variant we will be able to determine the next steps. In the meantime, sticking to the rules, following the steps which keep us safe and taking up the offer of a vaccine continue to be the best way to protect ourselves and the NHS.”

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Dyfed Powys Police

Eight assaults EVERY DAY on Welsh emergency workers in first six months of 2021

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Eight assaults every day were committed against Welsh emergency workers during the first six months of this year, new figures have revealed.

More than 1,360 assaults were committed in the six-month period from 01 January 2021 – 30 June 2021.

They included kicking, slapping, head-butting and verbal abuse, and ranged from common assault to serious premediated attacks involving grievous bodily harm.

At least 21 incidents involved a weapon.

With Christmas fast approaching – the time of year when assaults traditionally spike – emergency workers are asking the public to treat them with respect.

Jason Killens, Chief Executive of the Welsh Ambulance Service, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has been a fraught time for all of us, but that’s no excuse to assault an emergency worker, who are normal human beings just trying to do a job.

“The run-up to Christmas means more people are out enjoying the revelry, and with alcohol consumption comes an increase in assaults, both physical and verbal.

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“There were 60 verbal attacks alone on our ambulance control room staff in the first six months of the year.

“We know it’s distressing when you’re waiting for help, but abusing our call handlers is not the answer – if anything, it could potentially delay help.

“On the road meanwhile, crews might have no choice but to leave a scene if their safety is compromised, and that’s not helpful for anyone, especially the patient.

“The debt of gratitude we owe to our emergency workers has never been greater, so we’re asking the public to work with us, not against us this Christmas.”

Almost half (47%) of assaults in the six-month period took place in South East Wales; Cardiff, Rhondda Cynon Taf and Bridgend are among the most prolific local authority areas.

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Offenders aged 26-35 account for the highest portion of offending (24%), while a third of incidents involved people under the influence of alcohol.

May 2021 saw the highest volume of assaults (281) as the hospitality industry re-opened in Wales after the second Covid-19 lockdown.

Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, there have been at least 36 incidents where an emergency worker has been deliberately coughed at.

Assaults on police account for two thirds (67%) of the total number, averaging 152 victims every month in the six-month period.

Claire Parmenter, Temporary Chief Constable at Dyfed Powys Police, said: “Assaults on police officers continue to increase and this is completely unacceptable. 

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“Assault is a traumatic offence that causes great distress to anyone, and it is no different when the victim is an emergency worker.

“In September, we saw a man handed a 26-week prison sentence suspended for two years after he violently attacked two of our police officers who had gone to his aid.

“Concerned for his safety, they gave him a lift home – and in return both were physically injured.

“The psychological impact on both officers is something they will take time to recover from.

“In the same month alone, three officers carrying out their duties suffered injuries in an unprovoked attack at the hands of the man they were trying to arrest.

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“Despite the offender’s efforts, the officers were able to arrest him although they were left with injuries.

“The offender appeared in court the day after his arrest, where he was sentenced to 12 months in prison.

“Assaults such as these stay with the victims for the rest of their careers, and none of my officers and staff should have to go to work serving the public and be afraid of being assaulted.

“With the upcoming season of goodwill, please respect and protect our emergency workers.”

Although fewer in number – 22 incidents over the six-month period – March 2021 saw an unexplained rise in assaults on fire service colleagues, especially in South Wales.

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Chief Fire Officer Huw Jakeway QFSM from South Wales Fire and Rescue Service said: “Our emergency services work hard every day keeping the public safe and should not have to deal with abuse.

“Attacks on crews while protecting our communities and keeping people safe is completely unacceptable.

“Our blue light services come to work to serve and protect the public and the impact of such assaults can lead to life-changing consequences for those involved.

“This type of behaviour is, of course, carried out by a very small minority, and we once again thank our communities for their continued support in working with us this festive season to stay safe.”

Under the Assault on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act, the definition of an emergency worker includes police, fire and ambulance staff, as well as prison staff and NHS workers.

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Judith Paget, Chief Executive of NHS Wales, said: “Our emergency workers provide life-saving and life-changing care every day in often difficult circumstances.

“Our NHS staff are preparing for a challenging Christmas period so now, more than ever, they deserve to be treated with respect.

“Any form of attack on our emergency workers is completely unacceptable and we are doing everything we can to work with NHS Wales employers and our partner agencies to eradicate physical or verbal assaults on staff.”

Last week, UK Government announced that it was introducing a new law that will mean a mandatory life sentence for those who kill an emergency worker in the course of their duty.

The Ministry of Justice said it would aim to pass ‘Harper’s Law’ in England and Wales – in memory of Thames Valley Police PC Andrew Harper, who was killed in the line of duty in 2019 – as soon as possible.

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The With Us, Not Against Us campaign was launched in May 2021 by the Joint Emergency Service Group in Wales to try and reduce the number of assaults on emergency workers.

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Carmarthen

Mother gifts toys to children’s wards in memory of lifesaving son

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The family of a patient who passed away in Morriston Hospital has donated a collection of toys to the children’s wards to help keep his memory alive.

But the presents are nothing compared to the gift of life that has resulted from the deceased being an organ donor.

Marc Leach passed away on 5th May, of this year, in Morriston Hospital, following a period in critical care.

The 25-year-old, who worked as a chef in a Carmarthen restaurant, leaves behind a 5-year-old son, Lincoln.

On what would have been his 26th birthday, his family and friends met up at Marc’s place of work where the idea of keeping his memory alive for his son was hatched.

Marc’s mother, Michelle Francis, said: “On his birthday this year, on 18 November, we all got together and decided to do a toy drive for the children’s ward in Morriston, to give them new toys.

“Marc has an amazing little boy called Lincoln, who is the spitting image of his daddy. I wanted to keep my son’s memory alive so that his own son would never forget him.

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“Next year we are going to do a donor drive and raise money for mental health services.”

Marc Leach (Image: Swansea Bay NHS)

When it became apparent that Marc would not survive his mother spoke to members of the organ donation team.

Michelle said: “Marc had told us he wanted to be a donor. Because his uncle had benefitted from receiving a kidney in the past, he wanted to give back.

“I’m also a registered donor, I was supposed to give one of my kidneys to my brother but a donor came up instead.”

Although the recipients of donated organs remain confidential Michelle has been told that her son’s decision has already helped save lives.

She said: “His kidneys have gone to two people, his liver has gone to another. I believe he has saved three or four people.”

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It is a bittersweet thought for Michelle.

“I’m chuffed to bits that he has saved lives but I wish he was still here as he would have only been 26 this year.”

Calling on everyone to at least have a conversation on the subject of donations, she said: “We don’t need our organs when we die but there are people out there who do need them. They are just going to waste.”

Michelle thanked those who looked after her son in his final days.

“The nurses and doctors in intensive care laughed with us and they cried with us. They were absolutely amazing.

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“They were part of the family in the end. They knew a lot about Marc from listening us talking about what he was like and what he got up to.”

Kathryn Gooding (pictured top with Marc’s mother, Michelle Francis), Swansea Bay UHB specialist nurse organ donation, said: “Organ donation really does save and improve the lives of others.

“Thanks to Marc’s donation and the bravery of his family to support the decision other lives were saved.”

Of the presentation of toys to the hospital she said: “This initiative is a lovely way of remembering Marc and his generous gift of life and hopefully to bring a smile to the children who will benefit from the toy drive.”

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