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Health Board’s vaccination priorities questioned

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THE HEALTH BOARD has denied claims that the wait for Covid vaccinations has been ‘queue-jumped’ by Council employees and other non-front line workers.

On Thursday evening, a member of the public contacted The Herald via our Facebook page and asked us:

‘Can you please investigate and shine a light on the Pembrokeshire council employees, (some of whom are office staff who have been working from home since March, some are repair and maintenance guys.)

‘They have had phone calls to book and are booking appointments to have their vaccines done at the new vaccination centre in Haverfordwest at the records office run by the council. Some have been for jabs today and others have appointments for the weekend. They are definitely not in any of the first few priority groups and are taking vaccines away from those who need it more.”

When we put the issue to the local authority, Ros Jervis, Director of Public Health at Hywel Dda University Health Board said: “The decision was made this week to extend the vaccine invitation to staff groups critical to the COVID response, without which we would not be able to run essential COVID response services.

“Many of these staff are currently redeployed from frontline and patient facing roles and employed by the health board, social care services, independent or third sector care services and fall within the JCVI’s priority group 2.

“The invitation was only extended once we were absolutely certain frontline staff had been provided ample opportunity to receive a vaccine and once all stand-by reserve lists were exhausted. This approach has led us to having one of the lowest vaccine wastage figures, despite the challenges of our rural location.

“I’d like to reassure the public that vaccinating this essential group of staff has in no way delayed our rollout to the wider population and I can confirm the first invitations for members of the public to attend our mass vaccination centres will be issued this week.”

The Welsh Government’s strategy is to inoculate frontline staff and then Over 80s – that is its First Priority. Other people fall into different Priority Groups. With so many unvaccinated in the First Priority Group – over 80s – the question goes begging as to the basis upon which their claims to the vaccine were bypassed in favour of those in the Second Priority Group.

Preseli Pembrokeshire MP Stephen Crabb told us: “I am very concerned about the claims being made of vaccine queue jumping. From the explanation given by Hywel Dda University Health Board, it looks like the priority list drawn up by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has now been ripped up and lots of other people are being invited to get vaccinated who are not in the priority groups.

“The whole reason for the priority list, which was agreed to by all four Chief Medical Officers from across the UK, was to save the greatest number of lives by vaccinating the most vulnerable people first.

“I have consistently raised concerns about the slow rollout in Wales. We are not where we should be by now especially when it comes to vaccinating the over 80s. There is limited supply of vaccines and the Health Board should be using these for the most vulnerable people in our community. It’s important for building confidence in the roll-out that people can see there is a clear plan being followed. I’m afraid situations like this undermine that confidence.”

The Welsh Government faced increasing criticism this week about its management of Wales’ vaccine distribution. On Monday, there was outrage about the First Minister’s remarks on Wales’ strategy which the Welsh Government spent the next four days trying to stem.

On Tuesday, Vaughan Gething, Wales Health Minister, claimed that 70% of over 80s would receive their first vaccine dose by this weekend. On Wednesday evening, figures released by Public Health Wales showed less than a quarter of over 80s had got their first shot.

Mr Gething later claimed he’d made “an innocent mistake”, saying: “There was a minor amount of confusion about the difference between care home residents, where we had vaccinated a majority, and over 80s.”

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Pembrokeshire embraces future with new e-bike scheme

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PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL, under the chairmanship of Thomas Baden Tudor, has announced an exciting new initiative aimed at boosting sustainable transportation across the region. The council has introduced a “pay as you go” electric bike (E-Bike) service, now available in Haverfordwest, Fishguard, Goodwick, and Tenby as part of a 12-month trial that commenced on 8th April 2024.

The scheme, managed by Zeus Mobility, features the Zip bikes—electrically powered bicycles designed to make cycling less strenuous and more accessible to a broader demographic. Each location will start with 10 E-Bikes, with plans to increase the fleet to 50 by summer. The service will include three main charging stations and numerous satellite bays for convenient access and returns.

Priced competitively, the E-Bikes can be hired for £3.00 for the first hour, with subsequent time billed at 5p per minute. Daily and weekly rates are also available, offering users more flexibility for longer trips. The bikes are aimed at reducing reliance on motor vehicles, promoting healthier living, and contributing to national decarbonisation targets.

Councillor Tudor tested the new bikes himself, describing the experience as “brilliant fun for the whole family” and encouraging all residents and visitors to give them a try. The initiative is part of a broader effort by the council to offer eco-friendly travel options that align with environmental objectives.

To use the E-Bikes, riders need to download the Zipp Mobility app, which allows for bike unlocking, ride tracking, and payment. The app also provides information on bike locations, parking bays, and cycling routes within the county.

Funded by a £150,000 grant from the Swansea Bay and South West Wales Metro, the project focuses solely on this E-Bike trial, aiming to make Pembrokeshire a leader in sustainable travel. For further details on hiring and operating the E-Bikes, residents can visit the Cycle Pembrokeshire webpage or contact the team directly via email at [email protected].

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20mph U-turn: Some roads will return to 30mph following public outcry

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IN a recent shift in policy, Transport Secretary Ken Skates announced that some roads in Wales will revert to a 30mph speed limit following significant public opposition to the Welsh Government’s £34 million initiative to impose a default 20mph limit. This move addresses the concerns consistently raised by many citizens.

The controversial policy, initially rolled out across Wales under former First Minister Mark Drakeford and his transport minister, Lee Waters, aimed at enhancing road safety. However, it has since faced backlash, illustrated by nearly half a million signatures on a Senedd petition opposing the change.

“We’ve put our hands up to say the guidance has to be corrected,” Skates stated, acknowledging the widespread dissatisfaction with the policy’s implementation. He emphasised the need for targeted 20mph zones, particularly in sensitive areas such as near schools, hospitals, and densely populated housing estates. Yet, he admitted that certain routes should not have been included under the stricter speed limit.

Swansea Council Leader Rob Stewart welcomed the revised approach but highlighted the financial burden of changing road signage, urging the Welsh Government to assist with the expenses. Stewart praised Skates’ “pragmatic approach” and stressed that the government should not impose the financial strain on local councils, which are already facing tough budgetary decisions.

The policy has had its proponents, particularly among cycling groups and safety advocates who argue that the lower speed limits contribute to safer community spaces. Despite this, many have called for a more nuanced application of the speed limits rather than a blanket reduction.

In response to the backlash, Skates is set to present the planned adjustments in a forthcoming statement to the Senedd. The changes will allow local councils the autonomy to restore the 30mph limit where deemed appropriate, potentially affecting up to 10 roads in Swansea alone.

Leaders from other councils, including Huw Thomas of Cardiff, expressed relief over the change. Cardiff, where the majority of roads were already under a 20mph limit, saw a favourable reception of the policy. Nonetheless, the decision to empower local governments has been largely welcomed.

The Welsh Conservatives, through their transport spokesperson Natasha Asghar, have voiced strong opposition to the original policy, criticising its expansive application. Meanwhile, Plaid Cymru leader Rhun ap Iorwerth called for a more carefully considered implementation, supporting the principle of 20mph zones but criticising their inconsistent enforcement.

Responding to comments made by Ken Skates, Labour’s Cabinet Secretary for Transport on potential changes to the 20mph guidance, Natasha Asghar MS, Welsh Conservative Shadow Transport Minister said: “The people of Wales have rightfully taken significant issue with Labour’s 20mph policy and ‘correcting guidance’ will not be enough to ease concerns.

“The Welsh Conservatives are the only the party to have consistently voted against the ridiculous 20mph policy involving 97% of previously 30mph roads and a £9 billion hit to the Welsh economy.

“The Welsh Conservatives want to see this policy scrapped and have given the Labour Government a number of opportunities to vote to do so. A more targeted approach is needed with the support of the Welsh people.”

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Miracle pup finds her forever home after heart-wrenching journey

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AERIAL, a remarkable six-legged spaniel, has captured hearts worldwide, culminating in her adoption this week. Found abandoned in a Pembrokeshire car park and famously nicknamed after Disney’s Little Mermaid due to her unique condition, Ariel’s journey from despair to joy is nothing short of miraculous.

In September 2023, the then 11-week-old puppy was discovered outside a B&M store in a neglected state. Suffering from severe physical anomalies including two extra hind limbs and an additional vulva, Ariel faced daunting challenges. A subsequent medical examination revealed a more complicated internal scenario: a missing kidney and a malformed pelvis that jeopardised her mobility.

Despite the grim prognosis, Ariel’s plight touched many, leading to a worldwide fundraising campaign that raised approximately £15,000. These funds enabled her to undergo critical surgeries at Langford Vets Small Animal Referral Hospital, Somerset, where surgeons successfully removed the surplus limbs and preserved her four functional ones.

“Both procedures went well, and remarkably, Ariel was walking and eating by the next day,” explained Mikey Lawlor, founder of Greenacres Rescue, where Ariel was rehabilitated. “It was crucial that we avoided any post-operative infections, but she’s been in the best hands,” he added, reflecting on the complexities of her care.

Ariel’s recovery was supported by numerous vet visits, specialised surgeries, and extensive physiotherapy. Her resilience and endearing character garnered media attention globally, from radio and television appearances to newspaper features, highlighting her inspirational battle for a normal life.

“We are absolutely thrilled to announce that Ariel has been officially adopted,” announced a recent post by Greenacres Rescue. “Her journey of transformation from a discarded pup to a beloved family pet has been extraordinary.”

The post also extended a heartfelt thank you to June, Ariel’s dedicated foster mother, whose relentless support was pivotal during the rehabilitation process. “June’s care and energy have been instrumental in Ariel’s recovery,” the rescue centre noted.

Surgeon Aaron Lutchman, who led Ariel’s medical team, remarked on her progress, “She’s bounced back and is a happy little dog. We hope she goes on to lead a fabulous life.”

As Ariel embarks on this new chapter with her adoptive family, her story remains a profound testament to the power of community support and the unwavering spirit of animals overcoming adversity. Greenacres Rescue encapsulates this sentiment in their message, “Ariel is symbolic of everything we stand for—love, hope, and the chance for a new beginning.”

For further updates on Ariel and other rescue stories, follow Greenacres Rescue on their social media platforms.

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