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Autumn Covid-19 Booster Shots: New Recommendations for Wales

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THE JOINT COMMITTEE on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), the independent advisory committee, has just issued their recommendations for the upcoming autumn Covid-19 booster vaccination programme. This timely advice comes in light of the current health challenges and the recent emergence of a concerning new variant known as BA.2.86.

Eluned Morgan MS, the Welsh Minister for Health and Social Services, released a statement yesterday that the central objective of this autumn’s booster programme is to amplify immunity among the most vulnerable segments of the population and to strengthen protection against the severe impacts of Covid-19.

Highlighted in the JCVI’s recent report, the recommended vaccines for the autumn of 2023 include the bivalent Omicron BA4-5 mRNA and the monovalent XBB vaccines, contingent upon their licensure by the MHRA. The committee has emphasised the urgency in utilising the most recent Covid-19 variant vaccines, particularly for those with a heightened clinical risk of severe Covid-19.

Patients will be administered the most suitable vaccine based on age and clinical risk factors. The JCVI also suggests:

  • A minimum interval of three months between the booster and the last received vaccine dose. However, logistical considerations might necessitate some flexibility.
  • Should there be significant delays in rolling out the most recent UK-approved Covid-19 vaccine by December, administering the vaccine promptly should be favoured over vaccine selection.
  • In circumstances that permit, Covid-19 and flu shots may be simultaneously given.

In the wake of the BA.2.86 variant’s discovery, Wales is set to kick off its winter respiratory vaccination programme on 11 September, prioritising the high-risk groups. This campaign will initiate with the vaccination of care home residents with the current stock of vaccines. The NHS in Wales has reportedly made significant headway in preparing for the forthcoming autumn initiative, with appointment notifications expected imminently.

The strategy for the winter vaccination drive will not only address the threat of Covid-19 but will also shield eligible individuals from the seasonal flu. Ms. Morgan ardently advocates for individuals to avail themselves of both vaccines when available, citing it as the most effective means to guard oneself and loved ones. It’s deemed an imperative step to ensure Wales’ safety during the challenging winter months.

In her statement, Ms. Morgan conveyed her profound gratitude to the NHS and all stakeholders in the vaccination programme for their relentless dedication. Given that the statement was released during recess, Ms. Morgan has expressed her readiness to provide further details or address any queries upon the Senedd’s resumption.

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Health

Extra funding to upgrade NHS Wales digital services and equipment

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THE NHS will benefit from £10m in additional capital funding to upgrade scanning equipment and digital infrastructure.

The funding package includes:

  • £5m for digital services to modernise elements of the IT infrastructure and support the provision of modernised and efficient patient care.
  • £1m to upgrade MRI scanners.
  • £1.3m for ultrasound scanning equipment.

The extra funding is being made available today as the Welsh Government publishes its second supplementary budget – an annual, end-of-year budget, which formalises changes made during 2023-24.

This year, the second supplementary budget includes changes the Finance Minister announced in October 2023 to provide additional support to the NHS and Transport for Wales.

The Welsh Government provided additional in-year support of £425m to the NHS and £125m to Transport for Wales to help meet increased cost pressures and, in the case of health boards, rising demand.

The second supplementary budget also details some of the additional funding made available to Wales as a result of decisions made by the UK Government to increase spending in devolved areas.

But notification of the additional consequential funding has come too late to be spent in this financial year. The additional revenue and capital funding will be put into the Wales Reserve for use in 2024-25 and 2025-26.

As the figures were published, Rebecca Evans, Minister for Finance and Local Government said:

“The UK Government confirmed the final sums last week, leaving us only one week to allocate additional funds.
“I’m pleased that we have been able to direct much-needed funding to maintain the fabric of our NHS.

“But at a time when public sector budgets have been squeezed so tightly, this is another example of why we need greater borrowing powers to be able to respond quickly to emerging needs.

“Unlike the UK Government, we cannot borrow to fund day-to-day spending so we are dependent on Barnett consequentials which often come late in the year and with little or no notice.

“As it is, we have been forced to plan based on best guesses about what we will receive from the UK Treasury – this is simply not acceptable.”

Eluned Morgan, Minister for Health and Social Services added:

“This additional capital funding, together with the in-year revenue funding is welcome.

“But the NHS is facing the toughest financial pressures in recent history due to inflation and increased demand in both planned and emergency care. Health boards have had to make some very difficult decisions despite the additional injection of funding over and above their allocated budgets.”

The supplementary budget is due to be debated on Tuesday 12 March, after the Welsh Government’s Final Budget 2024-25 on Tuesday 27 February

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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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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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