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Covid-19: Pressure grows on local authorities to end the school term early

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PRESSURE is increasing on local authorities to end the school term early.

The Herald understands that both Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire County Councils are considering ending the school term on Monday.

If those counties close their schools, it is almost inevitable that Pembrokeshire will follow suit.

The Cabinet Member for Education, Guy Woodham, has remained adamant that Pembrokeshire will hold the line to December 18. However, faced with neighbouring councils shutting schools, logistical and staffing pressures could compel Pembrokeshire to follow suit.

Both the National Education Union and the National Association of Head Teachers have intervened in the issue. The unions have express concerns about their members’ safety and wellbeing, and that of their families.

After a positive test, a teacher in contact with a student must self-isolate pending the outcome of their own test’s result.

A teacher required to self-isolate at any point after December 11 previously faced being in precautionary measures until Christmas Day or beyond.

As things stand, some school heads face the theoretical prospect of running a Test Trace Protect procedure on Christmas Day.

In what might prove a significant move, on Tuesday (December 8) the Welsh Government reduced the period of self-isolation from fourteen to ten days.

The rising number of cases in schools and a new Welsh Government assessment has given the unions’ concerns greater impetus.

On Tuesday (December 8), David Evans, Wales Secretary of the NEU said: “Whole year groups are being told to isolate. The virus is spreading in schools, and our priority must be keeping both learners and staff as safe as possible.”

The following day, the Welsh Government’s Technical Advisory Group on Covid (TAG) published new guidance.

The TAG report said: “The best way to protect older family members is not to expose them to potential infection, no matter how well-intended the reason for contact.

“Pre-isolation may be a helpful consideration for families with children before visiting older relatives.”

The National Association of Head Teachers responded by writing to Wales’ Education Minister, Kirsty Williams.

The letter picked up on the TAG advice regarding pre-isolation.

It said: “[T]he advice on pre-isolating of families with children, in our view cuts across the government’s current position on keeping schools open. It once again risks mixed messages causing utter confusion.

“If this report is advising families to pre-isolate to protect any extended family members that they are planning to see over Christmas, surely the opportunity to do so must be supported by the government.

“Parents will undoubtedly vote with their feet, and children will be kept at home. That choice will not be afforded to school staff if school leaders are not supported in closing school sites.”

The letter continued: “NAHT Cymru urges you to review your position in light of the new advice and look, at a national level.”

It proposes a transition to blended/distance learning for the final week of term (December 14-18) in line with the TAG report advice.

NAHT says: “This week would see the closure of school sites and should be used for isolation and reducing social contacts, with a clear ‘stay at home’ message for all age groups

“This move would allow children, staff and families the opportunity to adhere to the pre-isolation advice.”

We approached Cllr Guy Woodham with our information about early closure plans in Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion.

He responded: “The position remains under constant review and further meetings are happening today (Thursday, December 10) which may, hopefully, provide an agreed way forward.

“While I remain of the view that 18 December is an appropriate last day of term, this is not an entrenched position, and I will continue to listen to others while remaining focused on delivering what is in the best interests of Pembrokeshire learners during these unprecedented and extremely challenging times.”

Health

Pembrokeshire residents urged to take a virtual GP consultation when offered

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PEMBROKESHIRE residents are being urged to take up the offer of a virtual consultation, over the phone or video call with their GP, to help Keep Wales Safe during the current lockdown ‘stay at home’ restrictions.

The way we access local NHS services is changing, with more ways in which you can consult your doctor or nurse. Most surgeries now offer telephone as well as electronic advice consultations in the first instance. Following your advice call, a face to face appointment may be organised, but video consultations are also available. You can now speak to a doctor or healthcare professional using the video camera in your smartphone, tablet or computer and a connection to the internet. This is often more convenient and can save you time, as you will not need to travel for a face-to-face appointment. The system used is confidential and secure.

In a recent YouGov survey carried out for the Welsh Government’s Keep Wales Safe campaign only 27% of residents in Mid and West Wales had made use of the GP virtual service over the past 12 months with just 57% having heard of the service. However, 88% believed it was important to have access to a remote GP consultation once they had learnt of its existence.

Jill Paterson, Director of Primary Care, Community and Long Term Care at Hywel Dda University Health Board, said: “If you are offered a video consultation appointment this is because your Health Care Professional has indicated that is it safe and appropriate to do so. Your video appointment will be confidential and will not be recorded. If you require support please contact your GP surgery using the number provided in the appointment confirmation.”

She continued: “By putting off small problems or regular appointments you could potentially be putting more strain on NHS emergency services so please, help us to help you, do not put anything off. Local GP surgeries are open and are there to offer medical advice and consult patients.”

After being offered a video consultation you will be sent a letter, email or text with details of your appointment. This communication will contain details of the service that has requested to see you by video and have provided a web address link. You can type or copy the web address link into a web browser via an internet enabled device and this will take you to the video clinic waiting area.

  • In order to access your virtual appointment, you will need:
  • Access to a device that will allow you to access the internet. You should use Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge web browser on a desktop or laptop, or on an Android tablet or smartphone or Safari web browser on an Apple iMac, MacBook, iPad, or iPhone.
  • Your device will need a webcam (camera), speakers and microphone.
  • A good internet connection (if you can watch a YouTube video, this is good indication that you have a good connection).
  • An internet usage plan that is sufficient to cover the data consumption of a video call – ideally use a Wi-Fi connection if you have this available.

Sixty two percent of those surveyed by YouGov in Mid and West Wales said they will continue to access NHS services using the new ways that have been introduced as a result of the pandemic. The new methods include making more use of pharmacists; virtual GP consultations and using the NHS 111 online and telephone services.

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‘Cautious optimism’ for county’s tourism sector – but clarity still needed

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‘GIVE us clarity’ is the overriding message from the County’s tourism and hospitality businesses as the sector looks forward with cautious optimism to another busy season.

In a meeting hosted by Preseli Pembrokeshire MP Stephen Crabb, thirty key local businesses were able to share their views with Paul Davies MS, Pembrokeshire County Council, the National Park and Visit Pembrokeshire.

The meeting focussed on the need for business support measures so long as uncertainty remains over the timetable for re-opening the economy in Wales.

Stephen Crabb said: “There is a lot of belief around that this summer will see another ‘staycation’ boom so long as the vaccination programme continues to make good progress and infection rates fall. Pembrokeshire has had a lot of national media coverage in recent months and could experience a bumper season but it’s crucial we get the re-opening right. There is a clear need for some kind of timetable to help businesses prepare appropriately and for clear rules to avoid confusion and contradictory messages.”

Paul Davies said: “It was a pleasure to hear from tourism businesses across Pembrokeshire about some of the challenges that they’re currently facing. The message was pretty clear – they want clarity from the Welsh Government and some timescales by which they can start to plan for reopening. I’ll certainly be taking back the concerns highlighted during the meeting and raising them with Welsh Government Ministers at the Senedd.”

Emma Thornton from Visit Pembrokeshire added: “Great to attend the Hospitality and Tourism Round table event today and to have the opportunity to discuss the ongoing challenges our industry faces over the coming months but also to share a collective optimism for what we believe will be a really strong year for tourism in Pembrokeshire when we are able to reopen and welcome our visitors back.

“Visit Pembrokeshire as the new Destination Management (DMO) for Pembrokeshire will be working closely with local stakeholders and businesses to help realise this opportunity in a sustainable and responsible way mindful of protecting what makes our beautiful county so special”

Stephen Crabb: Wants clarity for tourism businesses

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Funding secured for volunteering support at Paul Sartori Hospice at Home

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PAUL SARTORI Hospice at Home, a Pembrokeshire-based charity, is delighted to announce that they were recently awarded £29,814.00 by the Pembrokeshire County Council Enhancing Pembrokeshire Scheme. The charity has been awarded a grant to develop the “We Care: Volunteering Support” project, which will improve the volunteer infrastructure and support the volunteer community.

The project will combat issues around Second Home ownership by increasing community engagement and opportunities to connect people through training, open days, new social events and wider community outreach and communication. The first phase of the project has been completed with the successful recruitment of Eleanor Evans, the We Care: Project Officer. Eleanor joins this part of the charity, on a secondment basis, and brings a wealth of
experience, not only within the charity but also working with volunteers throughout the county.

The charity has experienced challenges over the last 12 months, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This new project will enhance the existing volunteer structure within the charity, develop incentives to increase volunteer engagement; support volunteers by providing increased training opportunities and develop a new social culture to decrease loneliness and isolation. Recognising that the pandemic has been a difficult time for many, improving and increasing community communication will also be a key aim.

Furthermore, the Sartori Stores throughout Pembrokeshire, have been through a difficult year, closing, opening and closing again. Most volunteers have gracefully assisted the charity, often at the drop of a hat, to open the stores.

Unfortunately, the charity has witnessed a decrease in the number of available volunteers to help, due to the pandemic. So therefore, another key objective will be to recruit and train more volunteers to assist in generating vital income and supporting areas within the clinical services.

“I am very excited to join this area of the charity and am looking forward to this new role. Having worked within the retail sector previously, I know how a lack of volunteers within a store can have a detrimental effect on the opening days and times. This will be where I will be concentrating my recruitment efforts on initially,” stated Eleanor Evans, We: Care Project Officer.

“Here at Paul Sartori we work hard to deliver a rewarding volunteer experience – we
ensure that adequate training is given to all volunteers. Our managers provide training and invest time with our volunteers to ensure they have the skills to work in many areas across the charity. Our stores can be a very busy, fast-paced environment, which offers a great opportunity for the environmentally conscious individual who wishes to help out a local charity selling pre-loved goods,” added Eleanor.

Cllr Bob Kilmister, Pembrokeshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Finance, said the Council were pleased to support Paul Sartori deliver their We Care: Volunteering Support project.

“This project will add to the wide range of essential services Paul Sartori already provide to people in Pembrokeshire, improve their volunteer infrastructure and support the volunteer community,” he said.

“This is such a difficult time for charities and local organisations to maintain their services and volunteer activities and it is important to support them to strengthen their volunteer base, especially at this time when Covid is increasing the incidence of isolation and loneliness.”

The Enhancing Pembrokeshire Grant, using funds raised via the Second Homes Tax is available to provide funding for new projects that help address the negative impact of second homes and in doing so adds value to our communities.

“This grant has come at a good time for the charity. Assisting our valued volunteers; recruiting more active volunteers and investing more in our existing training programme will ensure that the charity is financially sustained for many years to come,” said Judith Williams, Grants Coordinator at Paul Sartori Hospice at Home.

Paul Sartori Hospice at Home provides a range of services to Pembrokeshire people living in the final stages of a life-limiting illness, including home nursing care, equipment loan, complementary therapy, bereavement and counselling support, under 18’s anticipatory grief and bereavement support, physiotherapy, advance care planning and training.

The services provided by the Paul Sartori Hospice at Home enable people in the later stages of any life-limiting illness to be cared for and to die at home with dignity, independence, pain free and surrounded by those they hold most dear, if that is their wish. All of the services are free of charge and are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, thanks to the generosity of the Pembrokeshire Community. Further information on the charity and its services can be obtained by visiting their website www.paulsartori.org, or by phoning 01437 763223.

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