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Veterans report: Progressing but more could be done

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‘Important time of change’: Darren Millar

‘Important time of change’: Darren Millar

A REPORT released on Thursday highlighted that Wales had one of the UK’s leading services for meeting the mental health needs of armed services veterans, but acknowledged that more could be done to strengthen the national strategy.

The ‘Call to Mind: Wales’ review highlights that while much progress has been made in recent years in Wales with respect to meeting the mental and related health needs of veterans, further improvement is required.

Top priorities include increasing Veteran NHS Wales’ capacity, improving data to inform commissioning and service provision, improving mainstream services, and doing more to support families and carers.

The report, commissioned by the Forces in Mind Trust, is based on a series of interviews with three groups: Veterans and their families; statutory sector stakeholders; and those in the voluntary and independent sectors.

The end result will be the first comprehensive assessment of how to meet the mental and related health needs for veterans and family members throughout the UK.

Wales’ work in this field was praised, and it was noted that the only national veterans’ service in the UK was Welsh. However, the following improvements were suggested:

AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT

Armed Forces Forums and Champions to work more effectively and consistently across Wales.

A more strategic and coordinated approach to planning and commissioning across regions and sectors regarding veterans mental health, including urban and rural areas, and appropriate and timely responses to related health needs, such as physical health and dementia.

The creation of simple, clear, efficient and well-coordinated multi-agency assessment and referral pathways for complex psycho-social needs, particularly for high need groups such as Early Service Leavers, dual diagnosis patients, and veterans in the Criminal Justice System.

Welsh policy-makers to ensure that veterans and family members’ mental and related health needs are considered in new legislation coming into force in Wales.

Barriers to veterans and families accessing GPs and other services should also be addressed, supporting veterans and families to be more willing to access mainstream services.

Encouraging the cultural competence of mainstream services to ensure veterans’ needs are met on a sustainable basis, and addressing the needs of veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder while recognizing the differing needs of those with common mental health problems.

Improvements in data use and capture to inform long-term local level planning and commissioning were also recommended.

‘Capacity-building’ families so they have the resilience and knowledge to identify, support and sustain the recovery of veteran-family members.

The overall aim of the project is to help health service commissioners and service providers determine the most effective ways to assess the mental and related health needs of veterans and their families and to support the development of appropriate services to meet their needs, ensuring that valuable resources are spent wisely.

Writing in the foreword to the report, Darren Millar AM, Chair of the Cross Party Group for the Armed Forces and Cadets (4th Assembly), comments: “This is a very important time of change in Wales with the advent of the Social Services and Wellbeing (Wales) and Wellbeing of Future Generations Acts, both of which have important implications for continuing to meet the needs of veterans and their families.”

“The Call to Mind: Wales report is very timely in this respect and provides a sound assessment of the issues, our progress to date and where we need to be moving forward to ensure that any veteran and their family receive the best care at the earliest opportunity.”

Ray Lock, Chief Executive of Forces in Mind Trust, says: “Our serving men and women, and the families who support them, deserve consistent and effective support.

“Unfortunately, mental health is an area where there continues to be a lot of stigma and, as this report shows, it is incumbent on commissioners, providers and practitioners to work together to ensure that needs are adequately assessed, and that money is spent and targeted wisely to effect sufficient service provision to meet those needs.

“This report provides real insight and evidence that make a valuable contribution in helping us to achieve better support for veterans and their family members across Wales.”

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Why some want the Falkland Islands flag flown over Pembrokeshire

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A CALL to raise the flag of the Falklands Islands at Pembrokeshire’s County Hall will be heard later this week.

In a submitted question, which will be answered at the March 7 meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council, Councillor Huw Murphy will ask: “Would the Leader of Pembrokeshire County Council [Cllr David Simpson] agree to the raising of the Falkland Islands flag on June 14, 2024, outside County Hall?

“June 14 is Liberation Day within the Falkland Islands to celebrate the return of democratic rule following an illegal military occupation by Argentina. The restoration of democracy to the Falkland Islands on June 14, 1982, ultimately returned democratic rule to Argentina.

“The purpose of raising the Falklands flag at County Hall on June 14 is to remind us of the ultimate sacrifice made by 255 service personnel serving our country during the Falklands war.

“Poignantly 22 of those lost in the conflict were serving on HMS Ardent, a Royal Navy destroyer sunk on May 22, 1982. HMS Ardent has a close association with the county of Pembrokeshire through its affiliation with Milford Haven.

“The raising of the Falklands flag at County Hall will have great resonance for the town of Milford Haven and for members of the HMS Ardent association, in that their service many years ago is still remembered.”

The flag of the Falkland Islands features the Union flag in the top left along with a coat of arms featuring a ram and a ship, The Desire, which discovered the islands.

Cllr Murphy’s call to raise the flag at County Hall, Haverfordwest will be answered at the March 7 meeting, one of 35 items on the agenda, including the controversial potential council tax rise of 16.3 per cent.

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Unwelcome Caller: Pembrokeshire’s looming Council Tax dilemma

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AS WE HAVE reported, Pembrokeshire County Council faces a contentious decision as it considers a recommended inflation-busting 16% increase in council tax to balance its budget.

Councillor Mike Stoddart, known for his critical blog posts as ‘Old Grumpy,’ is voicing strong opposition to the proposed hike, highlighting the intricate challenges and pressures facing the council in these financially strained times.

The recommendation for this substantial increase comes as the council grapples with a tight financial situation, prompting a series of budget-setting seminars aimed at aligning council members on the path forward. Stoddart, who previously voted against last year’s 7.5% increase, remains a staunch opponent, citing a lack of compelling justification for the new rate and expressing concerns over the methods used to secure consensus among council members.

The crux of Stoddart’s argument lies in the perceived manipulation of council members through what he describes as ‘psyops’—psychological operations—intended to sway their votes in favour of the budget proposals. He criticises the shift from informative seminars on local government finance to pressure-laden presentations forecasting dire consequences should the council fail to approve the tax increase. This, according to Stoddart, transforms a complex decision into a dichotomy of distributing “pain” between taxpayers and service users, a decision he argues should remain in the political realm, subject to public scrutiny and debate.

Adding to the complexity are communications from the council’s finance chiefs, setting strict guidelines for proposing alternative budgets. These guidelines effectively place a veto power in the hands of the s151 officer, the council’s finance chief, over any alternative budget proposals. This move has sparked concerns over the democratic process within the council, with Stoddart highlighting the inherent conflict of interest in having one’s proposals judged by an officer whose original budget they aim to challenge.

The narrative took a more dramatic turn with the involvement of Max Caller CBE, a figure introduced to underscore the grave consequences of failing to set a balanced budget. Stoddart’s recounting of Caller’s seminar paints a picture of stark warnings against the backdrop of potential misconduct charges, a tactic Stoddart views as fearmongering designed to quell dissent.

Despite the pressures, Stoddart’s resolve remains unshaken. The veteran councillor is calling for greater transparency and accountability, suggesting that recordings of key seminars be made public to allow constituents a clearer understanding of the deliberations leading up to the budget decision.

His stance reflects a broader concern for democratic integrity within the council.

You can read ‘OLD GRUMPY’ by clicking HERE.

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Public bodies commit to stop odour at Withyhedge Landfill

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NATURAL RESOURCES WALES (NRW), Public Health Wales and Pembrokeshire County Council will ensure capping of a waste cell causing significant odour issues at Withyhedge Landfill happens as swiftly and safely as possible.

The three public bodies have been in regular contact since the start of the year. Following a public meeting held on Monday, 26 February, they are continuing to work together to achieve progress in resolving the issues affecting the communities surrounding the landfill.

Erin Smyth-Evans, Industry Regulation Team Leader for South West, NRW, said: “NRW is continuing its on-site inspections to ensure the site operator is moving forward effectively in its work to cap the cell where we have identified the most probable source of the odour. Work onsite is progressing daily and we anticipate noticeable reductions in landfill gas emissions and odours in the coming weeks.

“NRW is also continuing its investigations into permit non-compliances which in part have led us to serve an enforcement notice on RML in recent weeks. This outlined the steps the company needs to take to come back into compliance, and complete the landfill engineering work to contain and collect landfill gas. Our investigatory enquiries will take time and at present, ensuring the capping works are complete is our top priority.”

The public bodies are working with the site operator to monitor air quality in response to increasing health concerns from the local community. Results are expected to start being received mid-March. Public Health Wales will then be able to provide further advice dependent on those results.

Dr Giri Shankar, Director of Health Protection for Public Health Wales, told The Pembrokeshire Herald: “We recognise that local people are under strain and are very concerned about the impacts of odours around the Withyhedge landfill site.

“While Public Health Wales is not the lead agency for matters like this, we are working very closely with NRW to make sure the situation is improved quickly to reduce the impact on local people.  We have met with NRW and the local authority and are eager to see an urgent solution to this issue.  We have also recommended that the site is capped as soon as possible so that the odours are stopped.

“We have also called for monitoring at the site, as this will provide us with the important information that we need to help us conduct a full assessment of any potential health impacts on the local community. 

“Our current advice to local residents is that odours and emissions from this site may be harmful to health, and that they should keep doors and windows closed when the smells are present and seek medical advice if necessary.  We hope this situation can be quickly improved.”

Cllr Rhys Sinnett, Pembrokeshire County Council Cabinet Member for Residents’ Services, said: “We recognise the impact of odours on the local community coming from the Withyhedge site and we understand the level of concern this has caused.

“Since before Christmas our officers have been working closely with colleagues from lead organisation NRW to assess the incidence of odours from Withyhedge. Officers from our Planning and Public Protection teams have visited the site alongside NRW colleagues and engaged with the operators.

“I assure you a lot of work is continuing in the background and all public bodies have reconfirmed their commitment to ensuring a long term solution to the problems as soon as possible.

“As partners we have also committed to continue engaging with the local community and updating on the situation going forward.”

Members of the public are urged to continue reporting odour incidents to NRW.

NRW requests that instances of odour from the landfill continue to be reported via this dedicated form: https://bit.ly/reportasmellwithyhedge

Here you will also find detailed information on NRW’s investigation and action to date.

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