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Fighting for hope

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nhsSITTING IN her conservatory on a muggy July day, Chris Evans- Thomas looks anything but the determined campaigner who has no confidence in the Health Board’s promises about cancer day care in Pembrokeshire. 

There is little sign of the inner steel that has motivated her to raise hundreds of thousands of pounds so that a cancer day unit could be built in Pembrokeshire. She is proud of all that Adam achieved in his short life and his legacy. A legacy felt nationally – by persuading the government to fund bone marrow match testing of blood donors – and locally by reaching out to Pembrokeshire people to help fund cancer care in Pembrokeshire. Recalling her son Adam, Chris becomes emotional as she recounts his struggle with leukaemia and his determination to help others survive the condition that claimed his life. “The important thing about the care Adam got was that – apart from acute care – it was all delivered locally. The staff at Withybush Hospital were excellent and provided the best that they could. It was important to Adam that he was amongst his family and friends when he received his treatment. “Adam would come in here and exercise and keep himself fit. I swear he ate his way through one lot of chemotherapy. He was a good-looking, fit lad. He crammed fifty years into the last few years of his life. He did so much. “Imagine having to travel in a hospital car to get chemotherapy treatment. You know it is likely to make you feel ill and there you are stuck with a four hour round trip to get it. That isn’t right. It is vital that those services are provided close to patients’ homes.” There it is, then. There is the determination and the motive that drives Chris Evans-Thomas on. “When I asked for the money back that was raised through the Bucketful of Hope appeal, I knew what I’d be up against. “When the Board told the media that the Bucketful of Hope fund was only £15,000 I was furious. That figure is clearly intended to trivialise the contributions made in good faith by people in Pembrokeshire towards the cost of providing decent cancer care services near their homes. “And what is more the Health Board knows – they must know – that the figure is not accurate. They must know that it isn’t the true position. And I will tell you how I know: Chris Martin [former Health Board Chair] told me – in front of others – a couple of years ago that if I wanted the money back – then a sum well in excess of a quarter of a million pounds – then he would arrange for it to be released to the charity. “He even handed me a piece of paper with the exact figure on it and asked me if I wanted the money back. “Then he went on to promise that the day unit would be built within twelve months. Fool that I was, I was taken in and told him that if the Unit was to be built so soon it would be better off used by the Board to fund that building. “Again and again, I have been in meetings with the members of the Board when this and that has been promised. I’ve sat in on any number of committee meetings. I’ve seen plans. I’ve heard all sorts of management-speak. I’ve been told all sorts of figures. Ten years on and not one brick has been laid, not one piece of carpet put down, not one patient has been treated in a new cancer day unit in Pembrokeshire. And now there has to be another consultation. “And in that time, in all those years since Adam started the ball rolling in Pembrokeshire, Carmarthen has not only had a new CDU, it has had improvements done to its new CDU. “When I saw that the Board had spent money on improving the then still new CDU in Carmarthen, I went ape! I banged the table and I demanded to know what the hell was going on. Did I get a proper answer? Did I hell as like! “I can still remember being told that no announcement could be made because there was an election coming up. That was 2010. Still no announcement. Only vague, airy-fairy promises that are always dependent on something or other. Look at the new Kidney Unit. Completed. Ready to go. Now I understand the Board is trying to get an external company to staff it. In the meantime, it’s a nice set of conference rooms. Or so I am told. I guess I will find out when I go to a meeting there at the end of the month.” She warms to her theme: “The Board shows no regard for Pembrokeshire or the work of all of the charities that aim to raise money. “Now people are directed not to give money to Ward Ten at Withybush, but to Pembrokeshire Cancer Services, the Board’s own fund. You see undertakers producing Orders of Service for funerals on which people are being directed to contribute to the Health Board’s own charity. “When the Board grabbed all the money raised in Pembrokeshire and changed it from being in a restricted fund to an unrestricted one, it gave itself carte blanche to do what it wanted with the cash. “The Board can say – and it has said – that it is acting within the rules set by the Charity Commission, but it is not acting within THE SPIRIT in which the donations were made by Pembrokeshire people for Pembrokeshire services. “I discovered that the Board had re-designated funds only when I asked to see the accounts. And those accounts don’t go back far enough to establish what the position was in 2004 and what Pembrokeshire’s share of the original charities pot was. There was £8.3m in that pot. How much of that was Pembrokeshire’s? I bet you it was a damn sight more than a third. “And what is worse, it is now using those charitable funds to provide core services instead of on extra services. Charity should not be about funding daily expenses for the Health Board. They get public money for that. Health charities are about providing the extras, the jam in the sandwich, if you like. Now the Board is using charity money to fund its own programmes, such as ‘Support for Life’. It has said in its own publications that its own charity needs to raise £2m a year. In can only do that by taking money away from other charities beyond its control. “If people want to make sure that their money is used as they or their loved ones intended, I would say give it to an external charity – and there are plenty of them – or give it to the League of Friends with instructions on what it is to be spent. At least then people will have some certainty that what they or their loved ones wanted with their money will be done.” Chris stops. We have been talking for a while, now. “The Board treats everyone in such a high-handed way. I went to a meeting recently and it seemed to me like the Board is using a language designed less to communicate than to confuse. Management-speak, jargon, call it what you want but it is all delivered in such a patronising tone. Prefacing comments with phrases like ‘I am a lawyer’ or ‘When I worked for the Welsh Assembly’ – implying that such is their status that you MUST accept what they say as gospel – is scarcely starting on the right foot. I took an accountant with me to the last meeting we had. That was an interesting experience. The Board didn’t like being challenged one bit. Chris flashes a quicksilver grin: “Now the Board is asking that I give them written notice of issues I want to raise with them at meetings.” She pauses again and smiles. “If they’re so smart, they can do their own homework. “After years of broken promises and everything always being pushed back, I feel like the Health Board has led me – and others like me – up the garden path. “There is so much that we can do – outside the Health Board – to target support and services in the place where people gave their money and intended it to be spent. All I want is the chance to deliver what it has not. “No ifs, no buts: they’ve had the money and all they’ve done is sit on it. It’s time to use it in Pembrokeshire.”

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Milford Haven: Concerns over council refuse collection staff using drugs on duty

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PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL have confirmed that they are conducting an ongoing internal investigation.

The probe is relating to “illegal drug use by on-duty refuge collection crews” operating from the Thornton Refuge Depot in Milford Haven.

The Herald understands that following suspicions being raised, drug testing was carried out on refuse crews on Monday (May 10) – all before they left their depot.

This newspaper has been told that a number staff, which includes bin lorry drivers, tested positive for drug use, and that the council called in the police.

That information was passed to The Herald by someone who we have confirmed to be a member of staff working at Pembrokeshire County Council, who did not want to be named.

After a request for a statement, a spokesperson for the council has stressed that none of their vehicles were involved, suggesting that, on the day in question, positive tests were arrived at before any bin lorries had left the depot.

As part of the multi-agency operation the police were called and attended Thornton Refuse Depot, but did not make any arrests, and said they had little involvement in the operation.

Pembrokeshire County Council spokesperson said: “We can confirm that there is an ongoing internal workplace investigation and can clarify that there was no police involvement on the day in question – no Pembrokeshire County Council vehicles were involved.

“We are not in a position to comment any further at this time.”

Dyfed Powys Police told The Pembrokeshire Herald: “At the request of Pembrokeshire County Council, officers attended Thornton Refuse Depot to provide [them with] support on the morning of Monday, May 10.

“Officers attended; however they were not utilised.”

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Council’s Planning Committee approves ambitious dockyard plans

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PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL’s Planning Committee this morning (Tuesday, May 18) approved an application for the construction of a new marine engineering project at Pembroke Dock’s Royal Dockyard.
The plans, vociferously opposed by local heritage groups, passed unanimously.

The matter will now go to the Welsh Government, which has reserved its position on the scheme’s approval.
Committee members expressed the view that the balance between heritage and economic development were balanced, with strong views expressed on either side. They decided the balance of the application favoured economic development subject to conditions regarding aspects of the site’s preservation and its ability to be restored in the future.

The Committee members who attended a site visit on Wednesday, May 12, said it was the most informative and best site visit they had this council term. Visiting the site gave them a clearer idea about what was planned and the scale of the project, which would not have been gained from a paper exercise.

While the approval of the scheme was unanimous, one element of the reserved matters caused some members concern: the height and size of the proposed massive new sheds which would be built at a later phase of the project.
Cllr David Pugh, seconded by Cllr Steve Alderman, moved an amendment which would approve the project and delegate reserved matters to officers apart from the sheds’ construction, which would return to the Committee for detailed approval.

Cllr Tony Wilcox and Cllr Mark Carter emphasised the need for certainty regarding the project’s development, a position supported by Cllr David Howlett, Cllrs Pugh, Alderman and Cllr Stephen Joseph said that little delay would be caused to the scheme by bringing the sheds’ development back to the Committee. They noted the significant intrusion of the sheds into the landscape for miles around.

Planning Officer Mike Simmons advised that the project would proceed in five phases and that the applicant, Milford Haven Port Authority, was keen to proceed with the first phase as soon as possible. The first phase would be the infilling of the docks and pool, removing a caisson gate and preserving it, before the building of new slipways.
The Port Authority already accepted the sheds would only be built if there was commercial demand for them.
The amendment proposed by Cllr Pugh passed by six votes to five with two abstentions.

It means before the sheds are built, the Committee will decide the detailed application relating to them.

All other aspects of the development will be decided by officers.

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Business

Further Covid-19 business support packages to become available soon

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PEMBROKESHIRE businesses that remain affected by Covid-19 restrictions can check their eligibility for a new package of support from the Welsh Government.

This latest support package will help those businesses eligible to meet ongoing costs through to the end of June as they prepare for re-opening and more normal trading conditions.

Businesses that stand to benefit include:

  • nightclubs and late entertainment venues
  • events and conference venues not covered by the Welsh Government’s Cultural Recovery Fund (CRF)
  • hospitality and leisure businesses, including restaurants, pubs and cafes
  • supply chain business, which have been materially impacted by restrictions

An eligibility checker has opened on the Business Wales website so businesses can find out how much support they are likely to be entitled to and how to apply.

See more information and check your business’ eligibility at: https://businesswales.gov.wales/coronavirus-advice/

Funding will be calculated based on the size of the business and the type of restrictions they are under.

Businesses will be able submit applications to the Welsh Government from 24th May 2021 for grants of up to £25,000 and by the end of the month to Pembrokeshire County Council for smaller fixed Discretionary Grants.

To keep up to date and see the future application process for the Discretionary Grants please see: https://www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk/business-advice-and-support

The above link will be be updated with the latest information.  

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