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Parents of autistic children get answers



County Hall

County Hall

A LOCAL parent has expressed her concerns and frustration over the provision for education from Pembrokeshire County Council (PCC) for those on the Autistic spectrum. Speaking with The Herald, Lisa O’Sullivan recounted her personal experience with PCC over her son James: “He is clever, but autistic, and cannot mix with peers or indeed people he doesn’t know. He was capable of GCSE’s but he has anxiety issues associated with autism. He went to Bush in September 2011, initially to have 60% in mainstream and 40% in the autism centre, and was fine, but he started attending the autism unit more as he started absconding.

“By October he couldn’t cope and I was attending constant meetings with the school and PCC in order to find a solution. They didn’t understand him, the transition wasn’t done properly, and they weren’t aware James was a ‘runner’ before he went from primary to secondary school. He lasted there until April 2012 and then was pulled out of the school (the school with a dedicated autism centre!) at this point he was at home, with no support and no academic work at all, with no offer of another school (but then why would he when he was already at the autism centre?). He had no books or anything.” After calling every week, Lisa O’Sullivan said she finally had a tutor appointed for her son at the end of the school year in 2012.

She explained that initially he had 7 hours of tuition a week which was recently changed this year to 5, as he now attends a half day at the school. She continued: “He is too stressed to go on his own so I have to go with him. He has come on well with the tutor but he has missed so much school he is now miles behind. Isn’t the specialised unit supposed to know how to deal with pupils like James? I question the idea that he is only entitled to five hours of tutoring a week. What is James supposed to do know he has missed so much schooling?” The Herald spoke exclusively with PCC’s Head of Inclusion, Nichola Jones, who opened her response by defending the autism unit at Bush, and provision generally, as well as the rigorous training available to Pembrokeshire’s education providers for children with ASD: “The needs of youngsters with ASD vary widely, with some youngsters able to lead relatively independent lives whilst others needing a much more intense package of support. Each child’s needs are met individually.

The local authority work with families, schools and young people to put in place the best possible package of provision. The local authority have recently appointed a speech and language therapist to take forward ASD provision together with three outreach support workers. “The team will be fully up and running in January 2014 and will work closely with the specialist communication outreach team consisting of a teacher, three teaching assistants and three speech and language therapists. There are 24 specialist places currently available for children at key stage one and two, and a further 30 places for children and young people at key stage three and four. “The secondary specialist provision will also be providing outreach support to neighbouring secondary schools. The special school provides specialist outreach support and provision for more complex youngsters.

An annual programme of training and development takes place throughout the year to help schools and parents support children and young people with ASD. “The introduction of the ASD friendly school training is being rolled out to all schools providing training in relation to the impact on young people as well as strategies for reducing environmental triggers. The roll out in November of this year of the early screening pack for nursery aged children provides schools with the tools for identifying children whose communication skills are delayed or unusual as well as interventions and where appropriate an onward referral to specialist services. An ASD training and resource pack has also been developed for schools and is being launched in the New Year providing schools with a range of advice, guidance and intervention approaches throughout the key stages.”

She was also keen to point out how PCC were effective in inclusion, stating: “Schools and the Inclusion Service within Education in Pembrokeshire work very hard to ensure that agencies work together to meet the holistic needs of the child wherever possible. Frequently this involves staff speaking to social care, youth workers, sports clubs and the voluntary sector to try and co-ordinate support for young people (with parental and child’s consent where appropriate).” The Herald was also keen to know what the procedure of diagnosis was, given the complaints of many parents that it took simply too long to obtain. Nichola Jones said: “In the past the waiting time for an assessment has been up to five years. This has been reduced considerably in the last year and is currently around 26 months. Early screening tools and a building capacity programme for schools is providing school staff with the right approaches for supporting children and young people who have ASD traits without a formalised assessment.”

She also commented on Lisa O’Sullivan’s concerns about how her son’s transition was handled: “Transition ordinarily takes place through the school ALNCO and for more complex youngsters a key worker is currently employed by the local authority to work with schools, families and the young person to ensure the best possible transition between key stages.” Finally she commented upon the provision of education, once the child has been excluded from mainstream, and though she did not address the meagre 5 hours James O’Sullivan receives, she did say: “The Local Authority has a duty to provide an ‘efficient’ education which meets the age, aptitude and ability of the child in agreement with the parent.” Of concern to parents, may be, the the statistic from the most recent Inclusion Services Annual Report that stated that over 16% of Pembrokeshire families wait for over half a year for a statement. This means that children who go to school in September do not receive a statement until the following March or April.

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Hospitality sector welcomes Budget boost



IT HAS been so long it seems since we could stand at a bar and enjoy a well-earned pint, but now we are on the road back to normality, the Herald has spoken to some of those in the hospitality sector who have been asked to close. We wanted to know what the owners in businesses in these sectors locally thought of the budget and if Rishi Sunak had done enough to help them.

We first spoke to a Milford Haven restaurant business. Owner of Martha’s Vineyard in Milford Haven, Dan Mills said that the budget was not a silver bullet to fix all problems but said that the budget had gone a fair way to delivering what many in the Pembrokeshire hospitality sector have been calling for in recent weeks.

Dan Mills said: “The biggest risk many of us were facing was the cliff edge of a VAT increase, the end of the Furlough Scheme and a return to full business rates, I’m pleased that the Chancellor has recognised this and taken action on all fronts.

“With talk of the Welsh Government restricting us to outside trading for an initial period, the flexibility that the Furlough Scheme brings will be a huge help to ensure staff retain their jobs.

“I was also delighted to see that the Chancellor has provided funding to Wales to ensure that we benefit from a further 12 months of Business Rate Relief here in Pembrokeshire, that’s money that many of us can instead invest into restarting our businesses.

“I hope that the conversation that unfortunately began due to Covid between politicians and the Pembrokeshire hospitality and tourism sector can continue long beyond this crisis, it seems that through some open and honest feedback we are making real progress.

Award winning gastro-pub The Griffin Inn is well known throughout Wales and has received many national reviews. Their reputation puts them in a strong position once they are allowed to re-open. We spoke to Sian and Simon Vickers about the budget.

Simon Vickers, co-owner is also a director of Visit Pembrokeshire. He told The Herald: “I think the budget was very positive for the hospitality industry with the reduction in VAT being the biggest help.

“Overall I feel the government have supported the industry amazingly

In regard to tax on alcohol, Simon said: “Duty has been frozen It would have been nice to have seen a cut in it. Whether there’s a cut or not the breweries always increase their prices so in all honesty it never affects us.”

The ongoing financial support has been welcomed by industry group CAMRA, The Campaign or Real Ale, but the organisation said that the Chancellor had missed the opportunity to lower beer duty to save our pubs.

Their national chairman Nik Antona issued a statement to The Pembrokeshire Herald saying: “Freezing alcohol duty is obviously better than a rise. However, CAMRA had hoped to see the Chancellor announce a cut in duty on beer served on tap in pubs and social clubs to benefit consumers and help the great British pub recover and thrive in the difficult months and years ahead by being able to compete with supermarket alcohol.

“The Government’s commitment to review alcohol duties in the coming months is welcome. CAMRA will continue to call for a lower rate of duty for beer served in pubs – an option available to the Government now we have left the European Union.

“Reducing tax on beer served in pubs and social clubs would encourage responsible drinking in a supervised, community setting – as well as boosting jobs and local economies, helping consumers and benefiting pubs and licensees.”

On financial support announced, Nik commented: “Cutting VAT as pubs begin to reopen, and reducing it until April next year, means they can now start benefiting from that cut – but CAMRA believes this VAT cut should be extended to alcohol so that traditional locals that don’t serve food can benefit too.

“The extension of furlough until September and new grants of up to £18,000 are very welcome. However, pubs are unlikely to be able to fully reopen at pre-COVID trading levels due to outside space and then table service only indoors. The beer and pubs sector will need further support over the coming months, over and above new loans, to help them get back on their feet until there is a full and proper re-opening and they can trade at full capacity.

“Extending the business rates holiday until the end of June will help keep the wolves from the door for many English pubs, with the two-thirds reduction for the rest of the financial year a welcome step. However, given how tough it will be for many pubs we believe the 100% cut in business rates needs to be extended for a full 12 months as has already happened in Scotland.”

Picture: Simon Vickers, Griffin Inn, Dale

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Milford Haven-bound ‘flying oil tanker’ hits the national news



A MILFORD HAVEN bound oil tanker has made the national news, after a photograph taken off the Cornish coast made it look like the ship was flying.

An optical illusion caused the ship to appear as though it was floating above the horizon

The ship is believed to be the Hafnia Malacca Oil/Chemical Tanker which is heading to Pembrokeshire from Primorsk, Russia via the English Channel.

David Morris, from the hamlet of Gillan, near Falmouth took a photo of the ship near Falmouth, Cornwall, the BBC have reported.

On the BBC news website, meteorologist David Braine said the “superior mirage” occurred because of “special atmospheric conditions that bend light”.

He said the illusion is common in the Arctic, but can appear “very rarely” in the UK during winter.

Mr Morris said he was “stunned” after capturing the picture while looking out to sea from the hamlet of Gillan

Mr Braine said: “Superior mirages occur because of the weather condition known as a temperature inversion, where cold air lies close to the sea with warmer air above it.

“Since cold air is denser than warm air, it bends light towards the eyes of someone standing on the ground or on the coast, changing how a distant object appears.

“Superior mirages can produce a few different types of images – here a distant ship appears to float high above its actual position, but sometimes an object below the horizon can become visible.”

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Pembrokeshire residents can quickly check symptoms for variety of conditions on NHS 111 Wales online



NHS 111 Wales online symptom checker can save Pembrokeshire patients time by helping them find the right NHS service for treatment. Symptoms can be quickly checked for a variety of conditions and advice given on the best way to treat them by visiting which is hosted by the Welsh Ambulance Service.

The way we access NHS services has changed as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, with more options now becoming increasingly utilised, including the NHS 111 Wales online service which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It can be used for both health information and advice and to access urgent primary care in Welsh and English.

In a recent YouGov survey, a third of Pembrokeshire residents had not even heard of the NHS 111 Wales online symptom checker and only 19% had used it during the past 12 months.

Andrew Carruthers, Director of Operations at Hywel Dda University Health Board, said: “We are asking everyone to help us by reconsidering the way you access NHS services. The methods available have changed but we are still here for you. It is worth getting to know the different ways you can access the NHS so you can be seen and treated quicker with your first port of call being NHS 111 Wales.”

According to the YouGov survey, carried out for the Welsh Government’s Keep Wales Safe campaign, only 67% of Pembrokeshire residents had heard of the NHS 111 Wales online symptom checker. However, 86% said they felt it was important to have access to the service.   

NHS 111 Wales online can help if you have an urgent medical problem and you’re not sure what to do. The way it works is: You answer questions about your symptoms on the website and depending on the situation you will:

  •           Get self-care advice
  •           Be told how to get any medicine you need
  •           Find out what local service can help you
  •           Be connected to a nurse, emergency dentist, pharmacist or GP
  •           Get a face-to-face appointment if you need one
  •           Be given an arrival time if you need to go to A&E – this might mean you spend less time in A&E

For those who don’t have confidence going online to seek advice, there is the NHS 111 Wales phone service. This is also a free service where patients can contact the NHS by dialling 111 to receive advice on the best way to manage their issue or gain further assistance if needed. The bilingual telephone service is available 24 hours a day and seven days a week.

Eighty-four percent of Pembrokeshire residents had heard of the NHS 111 Wales phone service when asked for the recent YouGov survey but only 20% had used the telephone service during the last 12 months.


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