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Councils warned they have two years to improve local elections

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COUNCILS across Wales have been warned they have just two years to improve local democracy, after a new report has highlighted major issues with the most recent elections in May.

Time for Change: The 2022 Welsh Local Elections and the case for STV, published by campaigners ERS Cymru, has highlighted a slew of uncontested seats and disproportionate results under the current first past the post system [1]. 

It comes as local councils in Wales have the chance to change voting systems, with each council now able to vote to move to a fairer system, the single transferable vote (STV). However, councils will have to vote to move to STV by the 15th November 2024, two years from today in order for this to take effect for the next elections in 2027 [2]. 

Analysis of the 2022 Welsh local elections found that 74 seats in Wales were uncontested, meaning over 100,000 potential voters in Wales had no choice on who represents them in their local council. 

Furthermore, there are eight councils in Wales with ‘unearned majorities’ where a party holds over 50% of the seats on less than 50% of the vote, a third of all councils. 

The report also compares the Welsh local elections in 2022, with the Scottish local elections, where STV has been in place since 2007. It finds that Scottish election results are dramatically more proportional, with only two local authorities in Scotland with ‘unearned majorities’ – , just 6% of councils compared with over one third in Wales.

It also finds that uncontested seats have vastly reduced in Scotland under a fairer voting system, with just 27 uncontested seats in total in the four elections since the voting system change, compared with 61 in just the final First Past the Post election alone. 

Commenting on the report Jess Blair, Director of ERS Cymru, said:

“Our research shows a stark picture of a voting system that does not deliver for voters in Wales. Everyone should be able to go into a polling station on election day knowing their vote will count. But for over 100,000 people their elections were cancelled this May with the winners declared without a single ballot cast. For millions more there was no guarantee that their vote would matter or be reflected in the result.

“The good news is that there is an alternative. This report highlights how much of an improvement moving to STV has been in Scotland, reducing uncontested seats and making votes count so much more. 

“We have the chance to follow Scotland’s lead and for each council in Wales to vote to move to STV. Councillors must grasp the nettle and vote for this much-needed change in the next two years to really ensure a strong local democracy for Wales”. 

Health

New X-ray equipment plan at Tenby Cottage Hospital revealed

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X-RAY services at Tenby Cottage Hospital are to receive a major boost thanks to an investment of £625,000 in brand new equipment which is being installed at the Hywel Dda Health Board-run site over the next few weeks.

The equipment, funded by Welsh Government, will allow the unit not only to provide the highest quality images but will also mean patients with reduced mobility or advanced clinical needs can be more easily accommodated.

However, in order to install the new equipment, x-ray services will be temporarily unavailable in Tenby Cottage Hospital until Friday, 19April 2024.

Over the next few weeks, imaging for GP patients will be provided on an appointment only basis at South Pembrokeshire Hospital in Pembroke Dock between 9-5pm.

Patients attending the Minor Injuries walk-in centre can still attend Tenby Cottage Hospital but may be sent to Withybush if an x-ray is required. Alternatively, patients can choose to attend Withybush Emergency Department directly.

John Evans, Pembrokeshire County Director for Hywel Dda said: “We are delighted that Tenby Cottage Hospital will be receiving brand new and up to date x-ray equipment thanks to this investment from Welsh Government.

“We apologise for any inconvenience caused over the short period of time while the equipment is being installed but look forward to providing an improved level of care for Tenby community patients into the future.”

Patients needing further help or information should contact the radiology departments at Withybush Hospital on 01437 773385 or South Pembrokeshire Hospital on 01437 774018.

The health board is reminding people not to attend busy A&E departments unless they have a critical, life-threatening emergency and asking people to choose their healthcare services very carefully, so that only people with urgent or emergency care needs are being seen in A&E. 

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Farming

Police warn of disruption to traffic as farmers protests take place

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FARMERS protests are taking place in Aberystwyth and Carmarthen today (Feb 22.)

The police took to Facebook on Thursday morning saying: “We are aware of potential disruption to traffic in Carmarthen and Aberystwyth town centres from midday today.

“The traffic network in and out of the towns may also be affected.

“If you are planning on travelling in those areas today, please consider changing your route or journey time to avoid delays.

“We will update when we have further information.”

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Health

NHS facing unprecedented winter pressures amid record demand

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THE NHS in Wales has been facing significant challenges this winter, with an exceptionally high number of emergency calls and delays that have put immense pressure on its staff and resources, according to the latest activity and performance statistics.

In January, the ambulance service received 5,009 red (life-threatening) calls, accounting for 13.9% of all calls. Despite a slight decrease from December, with an average of 162 life-threatening calls per day, this figure remains the third highest on record. The response times for these urgent calls have also been under scrutiny, with 48.8% of red calls receiving an emergency response within eight minutes, marking the second highest achievement for this metric. The average response time for these calls was 8 minutes and 11 seconds.

The performance data also revealed that approximately 27,000 hours were lost due to handover delays at hospitals, highlighting the systemic pressures faced by the health service. Despite these challenges, nearly all health boards came close to meeting the target for 97% of patient pathways waiting less than two years by 2024, missing it by a mere 0.03%.

Nesta Lloyd-Jones, Assistant Director of the Welsh NHS Confederation, commented on the impact of the winter pressures and the exceptional demand on NHS services. “The monumental efforts of our staff have led to some improvements, such as a decrease in the number of people waiting the longest for treatment in December. However, the progress is threatened by the junior doctor strike action in January and February, which has led to a significant number of planned care procedures being postponed.”

Lloyd-Jones stressed the need for comprehensive planning and significant investment in NHS infrastructure and social care to ensure the health service can continue to improve and meet the demands placed upon it. “Good planning alone is not enough. Without significant capital investment and a whole-nation approach to health and wellbeing, alongside substantial changes to social care funding and provision, the progress of NHS leaders will be limited.”

The Welsh NHS Confederation, which represents the seven local health boards, three NHS trusts, and other health organisations in Wales, has been vocal about the challenges faced by the NHS and the need for strategic investment and support to navigate through these difficult times.

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