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Welsh Government is committed to eradicating child poverty

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child povertyTHE WELSH GOVERNMENT remains committed to eradicating child poverty, the Deputy Minister for Tackling Poverty Vaughan Gething said last week as a new report on the issue in Wales was released.

Every three years the Welsh Government publishes a progress report on the implementation of its Child Poverty Strategy that was launched in 2011.

The first report highlights:
• The percentage of children living in work-less households has been decreasing since 2009.
• The percentage of working age adults with no qualifications has reduced each year since 2006.
• There has been a small reduction in the education attainment gap between those eligible for free school meals and those not eligible between 2009/10 and 2011/12.

The Welsh Government is taking action on a number of fronts to tackle poverty, including measures to improve the skills of young people in low income households, reducing the number of homes where no one works, raising the educational attainment of those from the poorest backgrounds and investing in services that help children being brought up in deprived communities. Public bodies also have a legal duty to have child poverty strategies in place.

In October the Welsh Government announced an £11 million funding boost for Flying Start that helps children in the most deprived areas of Wales. 23,579 children currently use Flying Start and Ministers want the scheme to cover 36,000 children and their families by 2016.

Vaughan Gething said:
“We published the first Child Poverty Strategy in 2011. Since then we launched a new Tackling Poverty Action Plan that targets resources across the Welsh Government to help those most in need and prevent future generations experiencing poverty.

“Despite the tough financial backdrop, we remain committed to the target of eradicating child poverty by 2020. The target focuses our efforts on making a real difference and reducing the number of children living in poverty in Wales.

“Over the past three years we have made progress, from the number of children living in work-less households falling to the percentage of working adults with no qualifications coming down.

“Despite the progress made significant challenges still remain. Closing the education attainment gap, reducing the link between deprivation and attainment will be vital. Raising levels of attainment will also increase the potential for young people and adults to move into well-paid jobs. This should help to reduce levels of in-work poverty, which have been increasing in recent years. We know that the main levers to tackle in work poverty are within the tax and benefit system. It is an unavoidable truth that recent tax and benefit decisions are having a direct impact on in-work poverty.

“We are under no illusions that we are doing this against a tough backdrop. The impact of the budget cuts has forced the Welsh Government and the whole public sector to re-think ways of working. The recent years of a flat economy, rising living costs and welfare reform are likely to push people further into poverty. However, we are unwavering in our commitment to address child poverty, as shown in the unique actions we are taking.

“We have a clear focus on tackling poverty as a whole government, building on the evidence, evaluation and good practices over the past three years. I believe we are doing more and going further than the UK Government.”

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Health

NHS performance: Ambulances tied up as hospitals burst at the seams

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  • A NEW set of Welsh NHS performance data was released today (Thursday, June 20), and it contains more bad news.

The Welsh Government described the data as “disappointing”.

WG “LACKS GRIP” ON FUNDAMENTALS

Sam Rowlands MS, the Conservatives’ Shadow Health Minister, said: “These atrocious statistics show that the NHS is going backwards under Labour.

“Two-year waiting lists have increased for the first time in two years.

“Keir Starmer has called Labour-run Wales his blueprint for what a UK Labour Government would look like: these figures are a stark warning for the whole UK.”

Mabon ap Gwynfor MS, Plaid Cymru’s health spokesperson, said: “Labour’s complete mismanagement of the NHS in Wales has left us with waiting lists at the highest on record, targets for diagnosis and treatment are being consistently missed, and people are getting stranded in A&E departments for hours on end.

“It’s no wonder that we have such astronomical waiting times when the government has failed to deal with problems in primary care and social care.

“Until the government gets to grip with these fundamental problems, then waiting lists will continue to climb.”

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We have made it a priority to reduce long waiting times, and today, the Cabinet Secretary for Health met with health board chairs to instruct them to redouble their efforts to tackle these.

“These figures show the NHS is continuing to manage incredible demand for urgent and emergency care – the number of immediately life-threatening 999 calls in May was 25% higher than the previous year, and demand is nearly two-and-a-half times higher than pre-pandemic levels.”

THE LOCAL PICTURE: HOSPITALS

Over 30% of patients waiting to start treatment in the Hywel Dda UHB area have been waiting for over 36 weeks.

The Health Board has the second-highest proportion of the population waiting to start therapy. In practical terms, that means that around 4,000 people are yet to get the therapy they need.

The number of patients told they did not have it fell. However, the number of patients starting treatment has remained stable for years.

With rising demand for cancer diagnosis and treatment and no improvement in the numbers starting treatment, performance against the target for treating cancer dropped.

At least 75% of patients should start treatment within 62 days of first being suspected of cancer.

Only 42% of cancer patients in the Hywel Dda UHB area started treatment within the target time. To meet a revised target of 80% by 2026, Hywel Dda UHB will have to increase its performance by almost 100%.

The Welsh Government’s performance target for patients waiting to start treatment for less than 26 weeks is 95%.

No Health Board is close to meeting that target, although Hywel Dda UHB is the second-best performer—just over 50% of patients start treatment within six months.

Despite a dramatic fall in the number of inpatient beds in Hywel Dda UHB’s hospitals over the last six years, the number of inpatient admissions rose sharply in April, placing even greater pressure on chronically overstretched staff and resources.

THE LOCAL PICTURE: AMBULANCES

The percentage of red emergency calls being met within eight minutes fell across Wales.

The ambulance performance target is for 65% of all red calls to be attended to within eight minutes.

Across Wales in May, there were 5,110 red (life-threatening) calls to the ambulance service, 13.9% of all calls.

45.8% of red calls received an emergency response within eight minutes, 2.2 percentage points lower than in April.

In the Hywel Dda UHB area, 47.6% of red calls received an emergency response within 8 minutes, compared to a sharply reduced number of calls in the red category.

Examining more detailed data for the Hywel Dda UHB area demonstrates the pressure on emergency hospital admissions and the knock-on effect on the ambulance service.

When an ambulance takes a patient to hospital, admission is supposed to take place within 15 minutes of arrival, with the ambulance returning to service 15 minutes after that.

In the Hywel Dda UHB area, ambulances were tied up beyond those markers for almost 4,000 hours beyond expected admission and return to on-call.

Fewer than 18% of patients conveyed to a Major Injury Department were admitted within 15 minutes. For Major Acute Units, that turnaround was even worse, at barely 15.5%.

Once cleared, however, well over 80% of ambulances were back out on call.

Diving deeper into the data, we see that just over 1,700 patients travelled by ambulance to major emergency, major acute, and maternity and mental health units.

By a very crude piece of arithmetic, we can calculate that if those 1700 patients accounted for the 4000 hours of “lost time”, the handover stats would be even more shocking, with an average turnover of over two hours.

Moreover, localised data shows that 35.6% of all people who are attended by an ambulance go to a hospital using other means of transport.

A CRISIS ACROSS THE BOARD

The issue could not be clearer: delays at hospitals are keeping ambulances off the road.

The upward pressure on A&E services caused by the collapse of out-of-hours primary care (GPs, etc) is driving up attendance at all hospital A&Es.

The lack of beds is driving up a backlog of treatment. The lack of clinical staff means more junior staff fulfil tasks -including initial diagnoses- formerly taken by clinicians and registered nurses. Consolidating rural services on an urban model is making things worse.

Whatever the cure for the disastrous condition of the Welsh NHS, money will not be enough to turn around decades of decline.

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Community

New health concerns over Withyhedge Landfill site emissions

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LEVELS of a potentially harmful gas emitted by the Withyhedge Landfill Site have been recorded above World Health Organization (WHO) guideline levels, according to a recent report. Public Health Wales (PHW) conducted a health risk assessment on air quality data collected between 1 March and 3 April 2024 in the surrounding area.

The data indicates that during March and April, hydrogen sulphide, a colourless gas with a distinctive “eggy” smell, exceeded the WHO’s odour annoyance guideline. PHW warns that exposure to such odours can cause symptoms like headaches, nausea, dizziness, watery eyes, stuffy nose, irritated throat, cough or wheeze, sleep disturbances, and stress.

PHW stresses the importance of addressing the source of these offsite odours to mitigate potential health impacts on the local community. Despite an enforcement deadline passing last month, residents continue to report gas and odour issues in their homes daily.

“These are common reactions to unpleasant smells, and these effects should usually pass once the odour has dissipated,” PHW stated. “The long-term health risk is low.”

In response to the health risk assessment, PHW advises residents to keep doors and windows closed when the odours are present and seek medical advice if they feel unwell. However, they caution against blocking windows or vents completely, as these are crucial for ventilation and controlling dampness. Once the outdoor smell subsides, opening windows and doors can help eliminate any remaining odours inside.

Work to cap the landfill site has been completed, and PHW has welcomed plans to install static air monitoring equipment around the site to capture more detailed data. Dr. Sarah Jones, a consultant in environmental public health for PHW, acknowledged the stress and anxiety local residents are experiencing due to the odours. She emphasised the importance of resolving the issue swiftly and assured that the health risk assessment would be updated as new data becomes available.

Gaynor Toft, Chair of the Air Quality Group for the Multi-Agency Incident Management team, noted that the risk assessment from PHW is being used to refine and develop the air quality monitoring programme. Suitable locations for static monitoring equipment are being identified to ensure robust data collection for future assessments.

Huwel Manley of Natural Resources Wales (NRW) confirmed that NRW would continue to use its regulatory powers to drive improvements at the site and address the causes of the odour affecting the community. NRW had given RML, the company operating the landfill, until mid-May to undertake several remedial actions to control gas emissions.

The Pembrokeshire Herald has reached out to NRW for a detailed update on the current situation at the site. The community remains hopeful for a swift resolution to these ongoing health and environmental concerns.

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Community

Local projects benefit from Sustainable Development Fund grants

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SEVEN local projects have benefited from over £70,000 of funding through the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority’s Sustainable Development Fund (SDF).

The Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority’s Sustainable Development Fund supports community-led projects in and around the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park that contribute towards a reduction in carbon and help respond to the climate emergency.

In the latest round of funding, grants were awarded to Southern Roots Organics, Narberth Museum, and the Crymych Arms Community Pub to install Solar PV systems. Additionally, the Narberth and District Community and Sports Association received funding to upgrade their existing Solar PV system and improve the energy efficiency of their squash court lighting. As well as generating new low-carbon electricity and offsetting higher carbon grid electricity consumption, these projects will reduce ongoing electricity costs for these organisations.

Cosheston Community Hall was another beneficiary, receiving support from the Fund to construct a bike shed. This project aims to encourage more people to cycle to the Hall, promoting sustainable travel within the community.

In Marloes, SDF funding has paved the way for the village clock to be retrofitted with low-energy and Dark-Skies-friendly illumination, which will reduce both energy consumption and light pollution in the area.

The VC Gallery also received funding to upgrade to more energy-efficient windows and doors, which will create a warmer community space and contribute to lower carbon emissions.

Jamie Leatham from Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority said: “These grants represent our continued commitment to addressing the Climate Emergency, supporting community-led projects that improve sustainability and reduce carbon emissions.”

“By funding initiatives like Solar PV installations, energy-efficiency upgrades, and sustainable transportation solutions, we are helping our communities to reduce emissions, generate their own low-carbon energy, and raise awareness to promote a greener, more resilient future for the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.”

The Sustainable Development Fund consists of money allocated from the Welsh Government Sustainable Landscapes Sustainable Places Fund.

Further information can be found at www.pembrokeshirecoast.wales/sustainable-development-fund.

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