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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

All local hospitals to become smoke-free from March

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PEOPLE living across Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire are being reminded that today marks just two weeks until all hospital grounds in the three counties become smoke-free.

New laws, being introduced across Wales on Monday 1st March, build on the smoking ban introduced in 2007, and will result in all parts of Glangwili, Bronglais, Withybush and Prince Philip hospitals becoming smoke-free.

The law will also apply to all other Health Board run facilities.

The move is part of a national drive to create a healthier Wales and healthier future by protecting everyone from harmful, second-hand smoke, supporting those trying to quit, as well as reducing the normalisation of smoking, which is why the smoke-free law includes schools, public playgrounds, and outdoor areas of children’s daycare and childminding settings.

Anyone found breaking the law by smoking on these grounds could face a £100 fine.

Ros Jervis, Director of Public Health at Hywel Dda UHB, said: “This is great news for people in the three counties and Wales as a whole. Preventing people smoking on our hospital grounds will promote healthier care environments, protect hospital users from harmful second-hand smoke and support those using NHS services to quit.”

“We know the harms smoking can do to health, so I look forward to having the backing of our staff, patients and visitors, to ensure we all play our part in building a healthier Wales for the future.

Many smokers have already been motivated to give up smoking due to the COVID-19 pandemic and it is hoped this new legislation will encourage even more to do so. We have learnt that smoking can increase the risk of contracting COVID-19 and also the severity of the disease.

Quitting with support provides the best chance of stopping smoking for good, which is why we are making smoking support services available to those who would like help.

The Hywel Dda Healthy Lifestyle and Wellbeing Team (Smoking) can provide expert and confidential NHS behavioural support and access to medication to help stop smoking or access to stop smoking medication.  Support is currently provided via telephone.  The service can be contacted via 0300 303 9652, which is a freephone number.

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Health

Over £10m being spent on 84 new ambulances in Wales

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THE WELSH AMBULANCE SERVICE will receive 84 new operational vehicles thanks to a £10.9M investment from the Welsh Government.

The Minister for Health and Social Services, Vaughan Gething has also announced a further £1.6m in funding to the Emergency Medical Retrieval and Transfer Service (EMRTS) to expand the service into a 24/7 operation and establish the Critical Care Transfer Service. This is additional money following the £1.7m already given to the service. This service will support the national transfer of critically ill adults across Wales.

The Emergency Medical Retrieval and Transfer Service (EMRTS) provides consultant and critical care practitioner-delivered pre-hospital critical care across Wales. It was launched at the end of April 2015 and is a partnership between Wales Air Ambulance Charity, Welsh Government and NHS Wales.

The funding will be used to fund three specialist critical care ambulances and will see investment in equipment to support the expansion of the EMRTS service

Minister for Health and Social Services, Vaughan Gething, said: “The Welsh Ambulance Service has experienced a huge surge in demand on its services due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The funding announced today will allow the service to upgrade its existing fleet, allowing the service to deliver the best care for people in Wales.

“I’m also pleased to announce further funding which will establish a new Critical Care Transfer Service and see the expansion of EMRTS to a 24/7 operation, in partnership with the Wales Air Ambulance Charity.”

Chris Turley, the Welsh Ambulance Service’s Executive Director of Finance, said: “Our ambulances and response cars in Wales are some of the most modern and well equipped in the UK and this funding will allow us to continue to replace our vehicles as they reach the end of their working life

“Modern ambulances are essential in order that we can continue to provide the best treatment and patient experience possible.

“They’re also important for staff who spend the majority of their working day out and about in the community.
“It’s never been more important than ever to have a fleet which keeps the wheels turning on our ambulance service, and we’re grateful to Welsh Government for its continued support.”

Professor David Lockey, EMRTS National Director, said: “The funding has allowed us to extend our critical care provision into a 24/7 service. This, along with our partnership with the Wales Air Ambulance Charity, has helped us improve equality of access to rapid emergency-department standard care across the country.

“In addition, the funding for three specialist critical care ambulances will give us the capacity to support colleagues across NHS Wales with the transfer of critically ill patients between hospitals by road.

“We are very grateful for the ongoing support from Welsh Government, which has allowed our service to grow and make a significant contribution to critical care in Wales.”

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Health

Updated Covid-19 testing strategy for Wales published

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The original testing strategy was published in July 2020 and has been revised in light of our greater understanding of the virus, the development of new testing technology and the roll-out of our vaccination programme. The new strategy also expands our testing approach to include more regular testing for NHS and care home staff and patients in hospitals.

A community testing framework is also being published today which builds on the pilot schemes in Merthyr Tydfil and Lower Cynon to test asymptomatic people to stop the spread of the virus.

Today’s revised strategy focuses on the following priority areas;

·       Test to diagnose – Testing patients on admission to hospital, patients who develop symptoms while in hospital, asymptomatic in-patients five days after admission and planned admissions to protect patients who are at increased risk.

·       Test to safeguard – Regular asymptomatic testing for NHS and care home staff, supported living staff, staff working with vulnerable people in special schools, domiciliary care staff and prison staff.

·       Test to find – Continuing to test anyone who thinks they have symptoms to identify to isolate Covid-19 cases in the community, reduce the transmission of infection, support contact tracing, protect vulnerable individuals and help to slow or stop the spread of the disease.

·       Test to maintain – Regular testing of the workforce in various settings to find cases and exploring whether testing of asymptomatic contacts could allow people to safely remain at work or schools instead of isolating for 10 days. We are currently piloting and evaluating this approach.

·       Test to enable – Considering how testing might work alongside vaccination to enable people with a negative result or those who demonstrate the required level of antibodies in their system to travel internationally, attend work or cultural or sporting events or meet family and friends.

Health Minister Vaughan Gething said:

“Testing has continued to play a pivotal role in our overall approach to preventing the transmission of Covid-19 across Wales.

“Since the last strategy was published, new testing technologies have demonstrated it is possible to test at far greater scale, frequency and speed than ever before. Testing remains important as we roll out the vaccine. Once vaccinated, it is still critical that people continue to follow the guidance and if showing symptoms, get tested.

“Today I’m setting out our revised approach so we can continue to safeguard our most vulnerable people and protect the NHS. The strategy also looks ahead at how we can use testing as an appropriate and effective safeguard alongside the vaccine as we return to normality.”

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