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Autumn Covid-19 booster roll-out begins today in Wales

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THE ROLL-out of the autumn Covid-19 booster has started today (September 1) in Wales with care home residents and staff across Wales the first to receive the vaccine.

Everyone who is eligible for the autumn booster will be invited for a vaccination by their health boards. Invitations will be issued in order of vulnerability, with everyone eligible being offered a booster vaccine by December.

The vaccine will help support the immunity of all those who are at higher risk from COVID-19, improving their protection against severe illness, while also helping to support the NHS during winter 2022-23.

This autumn, in line with advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), a single dose of COVID-19 vaccine booster will be offered to:

  • Residents in a care home for older adults and staff working in care homes for older adults
  • Frontline health and social care workers
  • All adults aged 50 years and over
  • People aged five to 49 years who are in a clinical risk group
  • People aged five to 49 years who are household contacts of people who are  immunosuppression
  • People aged 16 to49 who are carers.

In line with advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), eligible adults aged 18 and over will initially be offered the Moderna vaccine which protects from both the original strain of coronavirus and the Omicron variant. Those eligible aged under 18 will be offered the Pfizer vaccine. Both vaccines will be offered at least three months after a previous dose.

The vaccines will be administered in a variety of settings including GP surgeries and vaccination centres.

The winter respiratory vaccination strategy will ensure all those eligible for the autumn booster are also protected from seasonal flu – people are being encouraged to take up the flu vaccine when offered. All those eligible for a flu vaccine will be offered it before the end of the year.

Health Minister Eluned Morgan said: “Our winter respiratory vaccination programme will help protect the most vulnerable in our communities from flu and coronavirus this winter.  The COVID-19 booster campaign will start with those in care homes, alongside those working within the NHS and the social care sector.

“Vaccines have had an enormous impact on the course of the pandemic – they have saved countless lives and given us the freedom and confidence to restart our lives.

“I want to thank everyone working in the NHS and other organisations who will once again lead efforts to protect the most vulnerable through vaccination.

“This year, we will  once again offer an expanded flu programme, with 1.5 million people being eligible for a free vaccine.

I would encourage anyone who is eligible to take up their invitation to help themselves.

“All eligible adults will be invited for their autumn COVID-19 booster via letter and text message from their health board by December and I would ask people not to contact their GPs about their invite so they can continue to focus on looking after people’s health.”

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Welsh Government under fire over NHS escalation levels

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THE WELSH GOVERNMENT has maintained the escalation statuses of NHS trusts, special health authorities (SHAs), and health boards in Wales amid ongoing financial, operational, and staffing pressures. Eluned Morgan MS, Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care, announced the decision today, emphasising that the challenges faced by these bodies are not unique to Wales.

The current statuses indicate varying levels of intervention and monitoring. Notably, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board remains at Level 5, denoting special measures, while several other boards are under enhanced monitoring or targeted intervention.

In response, Sam Rowlands MS, Welsh Conservative Shadow Health Minister, criticised the decision, accusing the Labour Welsh Government of failing to make any progress. He highlighted that all health boards remain escalated to at least Level 3 and questioned the Level 1 status of the Welsh Ambulance Services University NHS Trust, given that less than half of red ambulance calls are reached within the target time.

Rowlands reiterated the Welsh Conservatives’ call for a comprehensive workforce plan and full allocation of health spending to address these issues.

The Welsh Government today announced no changes to the current escalation statuses of NHS trusts and health boards across Wales, despite significant pressures. Eluned Morgan MS, the Health Secretary, stated that these bodies are still grappling with financial and operational challenges, which are not unique to Wales.

NHS Escalation Statuses:

  • Aneurin Bevan UHB: Level 4 for finance, strategy, and planning; Level 3 for urgent care at Grange University Hospital
  • Betsi Cadwaladr UHB: Level 5, special measures
  • Cardiff and Vale UHB: Level 3, enhanced monitoring
  • Cwm Taf Morgannwg UHB: Level 4 for performance; Level 3 for finance
  • Hywel Dda UHB: Level 4, targeted intervention
  • Powys Teaching HB: Level 3, enhanced monitoring
  • Swansea Bay UHB: Level 4 for performance; Level 3 for finance, maternity, and neonatal services
  • Public Health Wales, Velindre, Welsh Ambulance, Digital Health and Care, Health Education and Improvement Wales: Level 1, routine arrangements

Sam Rowlands MS, Welsh Conservative Shadow Health Minister, lambasted the government for making “zero progress” and criticised the decision to keep the ambulance service at Level 1 despite poor response times for serious calls. He called for a substantial workforce plan and full health spending allocation to improve the situation.

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Health

‘We are not for sale’ – Young people back plan to remove profit from care

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FOUR remarkable young people gave evidence to the Senedd’s health committee about their experiences of Wales’ social care system, supporting plans to stamp out profiteering.

Mark Drakeford asked the witnesses if they agreed with the principle of the health and social care bill, which would remove profit from the care of looked-after children.

Elliott James told the former first minister – who introduced the proposal while leading the Welsh Government – that for every £10 given for a child in care, £3 is taken away in profit.

He said one relatively standard residential placement can cost as much as £5,000 a week, with support workers paid a “shockingly” low amount.

Elliott stressed: “At the moment, companies are profiting off us and we are not for sale.”

Joanne Griffith similarly said: “We are not in the care system for people to profit off us – we don’t choose to go in the system, the system chooses us.

“Why should people be able to gain money … and spend it on whatever they want when in actual fact the money should be going to the young people, so that we can thrive?”

She added: “Put yourselves in our shoes, you probably wouldn’t want to be profited off.”

Rhian Thomas and Rowan Gray wholeheartedly agreed with the principle. But Rowan raised concerns for-profit providers “could end up packing up and going elsewhere”.

Elliott raised concerns about children being placed a long way from home, saying: It’s not just about the profit, it’s about the care of young people as a whole.

“A lot of young people are being let down currently.”

He said: “Moving a child hundreds of miles away isn’t always suitable….

“These placements can’t commit to contact, they can’t commit to free time so that leaves us not being able to see our family, not being able to go and see our friends.”

He warned that placements for children and young people with severe mental health problems are more than likely to break down because carers cannot cope.

Elliott said: “Unfortunately, the system thinks as soon as we enter care, all of our problems have been solved. They haven’t. We are still deeply traumatised young people who need care, love and support.”

While recognising the need for emergency placements, Elliot raised concerns about children moving from one to the next until a suitable placement is found.

He asked: “Why can’t we be placed into a suitable placement the first time around?”

Elliott told the Senedd some young people are “placement hoppers”, going to as many as 10 or 20 different placements in one week.

He said he was given only an hour-and-a-half notice before going into care and nobody was trained to really understand his autism.

“I was always left to suffer by myself because nobody knew how to help me,” he said, warning that symptoms of autism were treated as a behavioural issue.

Rhian stressed the importance of keeping siblings together and support for young people transitioning into care or adulthood.

She told Senedd members: “When you first come into care that’s the hardest part of it all.”

Rowan said it is vital to match the children going into care with the right foster carers.

“My last placement was with some people that were in their 60s,” he said. “When I was younger, I had a lot of energy and I was always wanting to do something.”

He told committee members the foster carers did the best they could but he wanted to build memories and they were sometimes not able to take part in activities he found fun.

Rowan was placed “out in the middle of nowhere” more than 10 miles from home.

“I didn’t have anyone around my own age who I could build friendships with,” he said.

Calling for more accountability, he told the Senedd: “If my local authority had actually done what they said they were going to do, I wouldn’t be sat here.

“I would be currently in Bristol living with my mother. Because there was no accountability … they went back on their word … and I ended up in long-term foster care.”

Joanne raised the importance of stability and continuity of care.

She told the committee: “It’s really important that we have a placement that we know we can stay in permanently and we’re not going to be moved within 24 hours … or a week.”

Joanne added: “We need a placement that we can call home.”

She called for compulsory training around mental health and disability, so “we know if we have an issue we can go to the foster carers and we’re not going to get stigmatised for it”.

Joanne also called for more unannounced visits to build up a more accurate picture.

The health committee is scrutinising the bill, aiming to report back to the Senedd in October, ahead a vote on the general principles with amending stages to follow.

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Health

Senedd backs call for more dentists in Wales

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THE SENEDD called on the Welsh Government to increase the number of training places for dentists amid warnings about “dental deserts” across the country.

Siân Gwenllian led a cross-party debate on dentistry training, with the Conservatives and Lib Dems joining forces with Plaid Cymru to amplify concerns about poor access to services.

Ms Gwenllian said a shortage of dentists exacerbates Wales’ “three-tier” system, with none of the practices in her Arfon constituency taking on new NHS patients.

She said: “A three-tier system where some are fortunate to access an NHS dentist, others can pay to go privately and the third tier, unfortunately, are those who can’t access NHS dentistry and can’t afford to pay to go privately.

“I don’t have to outline the problems that emerge for those in the third tier. Members are only too familiar with horrific stories about sepsis and do-it-yourself dentistry.”

Ms Gwenllian told the chamber, or Siambr, a common-sense solution would be to increase the number of university training places.

“But, to the contrary, the government sets a cap on the number of places that can be provided in our only school of dentistry in Cardiff – an annual cap of 74 places,” she said. 

The former councillor and journalist criticised a new dental workforce strategy, saying it does not commit to any specific increase in educational or training provision for dentists.

Pointing to a Tory commitment to a 24% increase in undergraduate places in England, she said: “Unfortunately, the party of Aneurin Bevan hasn’t shown the same ambition.

“And it is depressing and it’s a stain on Wales that the ability of a number of our constituents to access dentistry is reliant on their ability to pay.”

The Plaid Cymru politician argued having one school of dentistry in south Wales will never be sufficient to meet the needs of the whole country.

Sam Rowlands, the Conservatives’ shadow health secretary, said provision in north Wales is “simply not good enough” as he raised concerns about “dental deserts”.

He agreed that 74 places a year is not enough to plug the gap as he echoed calls for a “fully funded and fully functioning” dental school in his region.

Carolyn Thomas, who also represents North Wales, said people across the UK are struggling to access NHS dentists, with nine in ten not accepting new patients.

The Labour member recognised Wales-specific challenges on recruitment and retention, but pointed to progress with the dental academy in Bangor.

She told the chamber Labour has a fully costed plan to “rescue” dentistry at a UK level which will lead to much-needed consequential funding for Wales.

Mabon ap Gwynfor, Plaid Cymru’s shadow health secretary, raised concerns about a “failure to retain dentists and an even greater failure to train new dentists”.

Mr ap Gwynfor said only eight people from Wales got a place on Cardiff’s dentistry course last year, with only about half of the wider annual cohort choosing to stay in Wales.

Rhys ab Owen criticised a lack of data, saying: “It’s astonishing that we can’t say here and now in the Senedd how many people are waiting to see a dentist under the health service.”

Mr ab Owen raised a constituent’s concerns about their son, who was referred aged 11, having to wait nine years until he is 20 for orthodontic treatment.

The independent, who represents South Wales Central, said: “My constituent’s son has experienced bullying, his confidence has been knocked and his self-esteem damaged.”

Eluned Morgan told the July 3 debate that NHS dentistry has been a key priority since she became Wales’ health minister four years ago.

Providing an update on the recommendations of a 2023 health committee report on dentistry, Baroness Morgan said work on an all-Wales central waiting list is under way.

The health secretary reiterated that the key aim of dental reforms was new patients who have historically struggled to get access to NHS dental care.

Baroness Morgan said 500,000 people who had not received NHS dental care for more than four years have gained access since the reforms restarted in April 2022.

She said: “It’s interesting to note that an incoming Labour Government is also planning to deliver new NHS appointments, but proportionally we’re streets ahead of where the UK Tory Government was in terms of NHS access by new patients.”

Turning to dental training places, she stressed the need to take a “long-term evidence-based view” and be careful not to “over-focus” on dentists.

Baroness Morgan, a former member of the European parliament, said any increase would be difficult due to financial challenges and a lack of spaces at Cardiff’s dental school.

She said a second school would be the best option but warned: “That would mean a great deal of investment and financial pressures don’t allow that at present.”

However, she encouraged a joint proposal from Aberystwyth and Bangor universities.

The motion – which was co-submitted by Ms Gwenllian and Jane Dodds, the Lib Dems leader in Wales – was agreed with 29 for, none against and 15 abstentions.

Seven Labour backbenchers voted in favour.

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