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GPs begin roll out of Oxford AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccination programme

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Our over 80s population in Hywel Dda have started to receive vaccinations to protect them against COVID-19 as the first Oxford AstraZeneca vaccines have been delivered by GP practices in west Wales this week.

Mrs Margaret Stevens, aged 92, from Llanelli was delighted to be one of the first patients in the community to receive her vaccine as was Bury Port resident Mr Clifford Jones, aged 85.

To date, more than 10,000 vaccines have been delivered in the Hywel Dda area since December 2020 and from next week, 14 surgeries across Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire will be providing the vaccine locally to people aged 80 and over.

Work is ongoing in conjunction with primary care colleagues, so that by mid-January many more GP practices across the three counties of Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire will be calling patients in for the vaccine, as well as providing vaccination for more care home residents as well patients who are housebound.

The health board is also in discussion with colleagues in community pharmacy to explore the possibility of vaccinations being delivered by pharmacists and working on setting up more community based vaccination centres to support health board and primary care delivery in Aberystwyth, Llanelli and Haverfordwest, as more vaccine doses are provided. Announcements will be made when details are finalised and the sites will be phased in according to logistical arrangements.

Health and care staff will continue to also be called in for vaccination in the mass centres in Carmarthen and Cardigan.

Steve Moore, Chief Executive of Hywel Dda University Health Board said: “The situation in Wales is very serious at the moment. Cases of the virus are very high and there is a new, very transmissible strain of coronavirus in the UK, circulating in all parts of Wales. Whilst we are asking our communities to continue to protect themselves, their loved ones and the NHS by staying at home, there is also hope in the form of the vaccines.

“It is incredible that we have vaccinated 10,000 people in the Hywel Dda area already. I am grateful to all our staff and the partners we are working with in primary care, care homes and local authorities to make this happen.

“We would ask our communities to bear with us – it will take time to roll this out but we are assured that we will continue to receive greater volumes of the vaccine in the coming weeks. Please don’t phone your GP or hospital to find out when your vaccine will be, but be reassured that they will call you in at the appropriate time.

“But also please get ready to accept the vaccine when you are offered it. It will offer you great protection from the disease that has so drastically affected all our lives.”

Dr Sion James, Deputy Medical Director for Primary Care and Community Services, Hywel Dda University Health Board added: “This is an exciting time for primary care contractors to be part of a historical vaccination programme, working collaboratively with our colleagues in the health board.

“We’d like to assure those in the priority group we’re currently vaccinating in primary care (80 and over), that they will be contacted by their GP to arrange a vaccine appointment. Please don’t contact your GP or pharmacist.

“Thank you to everyone for their patience at this time.”

Eluned Morgan MS said: “It is a really important development that all 51 GP practices across Hywel Dda will deliver the vaccine when it becomes available with around 14 surgeries coming online from the 18th January, Supply of the Oxford vaccine is being managed through Public Health England.”

“I recognise people are keen to hear when they will be able to have their jab. GPs will be writing to people in the priority groups to call them for their vaccination. Please wait to be called to avoid placing the NHS under additional strain.”

“Alongside rollout at GP surgeries, Hywel Dda Health Board will continue with their Mass Vaccination Centres in Carmarthen and Cardigan. Vaccination centres are also due to open at Withybush and Bronglais hospitals when further doses of the Pfizer vaccination are made available in the coming weeks – expected to be Monday 18th January. Hywel Dda Health Board has also said that a vaccination centre will be open at Prince Philip Hospital from the 25th January.”

The Welsh Government confirmed today that lockdown restrictions will remain in place for a further three weeks and schools may remain closed until the February half term should infection rates not fall significantly.

Eluned Morgan continued: “It is really important that we all continue to adhere to the public health advice to prevent the spread of Coronavirus. The most important thing we can do right now is observe the stay at home message and when it is absolutely essential to leave home, we hand sanitize, maintain a minimum of 2 metres distance from others and use a face covering. The quicker we beat Coronavirus, the quicker we can get life back to normal.”

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Health

Faulty Covid swabs may have led to ‘false positives’ in Wales

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A NUMBER of faulty Covid swabs may have led to false positive coronavirus test results, the Welsh Government has said.

Concerns have been raised over a “small proportion” of affected Covid-19 swabs which were used in hospital settings, health board-run community testing units, and Welsh Ambulance Service Trust mobile testing units.

The official statement reads: “As a result of the laboratory testing quality control measures in place and the diligence of Public Health Wales laboratory staff, we became aware on Friday 15 January 2021 of an issue affecting a small number of swabs used in sampling for Covid-19.

“These swabs are used to sample for Covid-19 in hospital settings, at health board-run community testing units and WAST-operated mobile testing units. These swabs are not used by the lighthouse labs and so tests undertaken through our regional and local testing sites are unaffected.

“As soon as this problem was discovered, all microbiology labs and testing centres in Wales were notified so that the affected swabs could be taken out of circulation.

“NHS Wales Shared Services Partnership is working with Public Health Wales, Local Health Boards, the manufacturer of the swabs COPAN and the UK supplier/distributor Thermo Fisher Scientific to identify and isolate the swabs potentially affected to prevent their on-going use.

“The affected swabs were shipped into Wales direct from the manufacturer COPAN between 18 November and 14 December 2020. NHS Wales Shared Services Partnership has isolated all relevant supplies as a precaution while further investigations are undertaken.

“Public Health Wales have advised that where these swabs have been used they pose little or no risk to public health. As a safeguard, further checks are being undertaken. The issue detected may have affected the accuracy of a small proportion of test results leading to false positives. However, based on what we currently know Public Health Wales is confident that this does not affect the overall epidemiological picture.

“The Covid-19 Test, Trace, Protect system continues to operate as normal and alternative swabs are being used.”

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Health

Pembrokeshire residents are exercising their way to happiness during Pandemic  

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PEMBROKESHIRE residents are turning to exercise to help them improve their mental health during the Covid19 Pandemic.

According to a YouGov survey carried out in December, a third of those living in mid and west Wales said exercise has helped sustain or improve their mental health since the start of the pandemic.

It comes as the Welsh Government is encouraging people to ‘help us, help you’ by practicing self-care and adopting small changes to help improve mental well-being, particularly at a time when levels of anxiety are higher than usual.

The traditional benefits of exercise have been to improve and maintain physical fitness but, more recently, the benefit of exercise to improve mental health has come to the fore. Exercise decreases the stress hormones such as cortisol and increases endorphins. Endorphins are the body’s natural ‘feel-good’ chemicals, and when they are released through exercise, your mood is boosted naturally.  As well endorphins, exercise also releases adrenaline, serotonin, and dopamine.  These chemicals work together to make you feel good.

Professor Jon Bisson, Deputy Director of the National Centre for Mental Health (NCMH) and Director of Traumatic Stress Wales, said: “There are several important ways to help reduce the risk of developing mental health consequences due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Eating healthily, taking exercise on a regular basis, keeping regular sleeping patterns, establishing a good structure for our days, and engaging in relaxing activities are always important to promote health and wellbeing.

“I would like to stress that if you are experiencing a mental health crisis or feel the need for additional support, please do ask for help. Some of us will need more formal input and services remain available and are keen to provide this.”

With more than £700m invested annually, The Welsh Government spends more on mental health than on any other aspect of the NHS.

If you are concerned about your mental health and would like confidential help and advice then you can call the mental health listening and emotional support line which is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week on 0800132737. Alternatively, you can text ‘help’ to 81066.

One rural mental health charity, the DPJ Foundation, based in Pembrokeshire, is encouraging farmers and those living rurally across Wales to run during the month of January to help with their mental health.

Emma Picton-Jones, founder of the DPJ Foundation, helped create the @_run1000 challenge which is happening throughout January 2021. The challenge is between England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the rest of the world to see whose team could run 1000 miles first. All countries have now reached the 1000-mile mark and are now competing to see who can run the most miles throughout the month whilst raising awareness of the importance of rural mental health, and raising money for rural mental health charities including the DPJ Foundation.

Emma Picton-Jones said, “January can be quite a tough month for farmers and those of us living rurally and this year we have lockdown to contend with as well. We wanted to create something positive for everyone to take part in that gets them out and active. It is not too late to get involved – just find @_run1000 on social media and there’ll be a link for more details. It might be the only way Wales beat England if the six nations doesn’t go ahead!”

The DPJ Foundation was set up in July 2016 following the death of Daniel Picton-Jones. Daniel’s suicide rocked the community and his wife Emma realised very quickly a lack of support available for those suffering with poor mental health in rural communities. It was announced at Daniel’s funeral that a fund would be set up to provide support to those, like Daniel, who were suffering from poor mental health. It also became clear that the agricultural industry carried the highest rate of suicide, yet little was being done to help this.

Sarah Jones, a self-employed mother of two boys who lives in Carmarthenshire took up running less than a year ago and signed up to the @_run1000 challenge to help her mental health and keep her running motivation going during lockdown. She said, “Perhaps homeschooling has hit a groove, you’re comfortably working from home, you have time for you, and you feel supported and in control. For many of us, though, the opposite of all those things is true. Just as with the first lockdown, never has my running been more important. I go for a run to have a bit of time to myself to manage my thoughts and then the rest of my day feels a bit more manageable.”

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Health

Social care leader’s frustration over anti-covid jab no-shows

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A SOCIAL care leader has vented her frustration about people not turning up for appointments for anti-covid jabs in the Hywel Dda Health Board Area.

Mary Wimbury, the chief executive of Care Forum Wales which represents nearly 500 independent providers, said it was particularly galling when many vulnerable care home residents are desperate to have them.

There has been a significant number of no-shows across Wales at a time when vaccine supplies are limited.

Another cause for concern was the number of so called Red Flag care homes – where at least one positive test has been registered.

In a number of cases residents in those homes were not being allowed to have the inoculation even when the initial test was a false positive and a subsequent test came back negative.

It was now, said Ms Wimbury, a race against time to get all 23,000 care home residents as well as the 12,000 staff in Wales vaccinated, with the Welsh Government promising that all of them will be given the jab before the end of January.

She said: “I really hope that the Welsh Government meet the target because every day that people are waiting for a vaccine is a day that they are in more danger.

“We’ve seen vaccination of care home staff and residents really ramp up in the last week and this week so I hope we can get there. We really need to get it done.

“I’m hearing that some homes are being told if they are ‘red’ none of their residents will be vaccinated.

“Being designated as red may just mean you have a member of staff who tests positive on the UK portal routine testing.

“That doesn’t necessarily mean that they are positive. We’re still seeing a lot of false positives.

“Vaccinations are being put off in those care homes and actually, those residents need the vaccination as much as everyone else.

“I’m hearing that some homes are being told if they are ‘red’ none of their residents will be vaccinated.

“Given that red is a status that can mean anything from one member of staff getting a portal positive – at a time when we are seeing lots of false positives to a serious outbreak, this does not seem to be right or in line with Public Health Wales guidance which states that the situation should be risk assessed:

“If a care home has only one case of Covid-19 infection in a resident or staff member, other residents and care home staff should, according to the guidance, be offered vaccination as long as they have not been deemed close contacts of the case requiring self-isolation.

“There’s a significant number of Red Flag care homes across Wales because community transmissions are very high, staff are coming in and out from the community as well as the false positives.

“Care homes are supposed to be being risk-assessed if they’re red and if it’s considered appropriate to do so, they should in most cases, still be vaccinated but that isn’t always happening on the ground.

“It’s very frustrating when you hear about missed appointments with people not turning up to be vaccinated at a time when staff and residents seriously want one.

“It’s especially disappointing when care homes are the top priority group and we are seeing other groups being vaccinated alongside them as well.

“I understand a cancellation hotline is now being set up so hopefully this will lead to fewer unused appointments.

“I don’t think you can underestimate how desperate care home residents and staff are for this vaccination.”

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