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COVID-19 spring booster vaccine to be offered to those considered to benefit 



THE Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), as part of its latest review of the COVID-19 vaccination programme, has today published a statement recommending a spring booster for those citizens it considers would benefit most from being vaccinated.

The primary aim of the COVID-19 vaccination programme continues to be the prevention of severe disease (hospitalisation and mortality) arising from COVID-19. The Committee has recommended, as a precautionary strategy, a booster dose in the spring for:

  • adults aged 75 years and over;
  • residents in a care home for older adults, and
  • individuals aged 6 months and over who are immunosuppressed (as defined in table 3 or 4 in the Green Book).

Eluned Morgan MS, Minister for Health and Social Services said: “In making this recommendation, the JCVI has considered available data from the UK and internationally, which continues to suggest older people are at the highest risk of experiencing severe disease if infected by COVID-19. The Committee has also stated that the spring dose should be offered around 6 months after the last vaccine dose, although operational flexibility around the timing is allowed.  The latest COVID-19 XBB-variant vaccines, which most closely match currently circulating variants, are considered preferable for use in the campaign. These are the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna mRNA XBB.1.5 vaccines.

“I have accepted this advice and health boards have been asked to plan their spring booster programmes on this basis.  The details of the programme will be set out imminently in a Welsh Health Circular issued by the Chief Medical Officer.

“As ever, I am extremely grateful to the NHS and everyone involved in the vaccination programme for their continued hard work to help keep the most vulnerable in our communities safe and protected.”

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New X-ray equipment plan at Tenby Cottage Hospital revealed



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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NHS facing unprecedented winter pressures amid record demand



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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Welsh Government unveils ten-year mental health and suicide strategies



THE WELSH GOVERNMENT has unveiled new ten-year mental health and suicide prevention strategies amid concerns about stubbornly high numbers of people taking their own lives.

Lynne Neagle launched 16-week consultations on the draft mental health and suicide and self-harm prevention strategies on February 20.

The deputy minister for mental health said the consultation documents have a clear focus on tackling inequalities in terms of access and outcomes.

She told the Senedd the strategies are separate but interconnected, recognising that suicide and self-harm are not diagnosable mental health conditions.

She said: “There is a prevailing misconception that people who die by suicide have a mental illness, and it is vital that we challenge this perception to remove the stigma.”


Ms Neagle said a key theme is not to medicalise mental health: “We want to see a shift in how we talk about and support mental health issues to better reflect the needs of individuals. 

“The majority of people who we might define as having a mental health issue do need support, but don’t need specialised mental health services.

“For those that need specialised mental health services, we have also been clear about how we intend to strengthen these further.”

Warning of unprecedented financial pressures, she told MSs the strategies will ensure value-based targeting of resources rather than set out a list of new funding commitments.

She said: “All available modelling suggests mental health demands will continue to increase.

“Without continued cross-government and multi-agency support, as set out in these strategies, the NHS is likely to become overwhelmed.”


James Evans urged the Welsh Government to engage with as many people as possible, particularly young and middle-aged men who are more likely to take their own lives.

Conservative MS James Evans
Conservative MS James Evans

The Conservatives’ shadow minister also raised the importance of getting buy-in from health boards, given the challenging financial climate.

Mr Evans, who is currently steering the mental health standards of care bill through the Senedd, said: “Reducing the rates of suicide and self-harm in our society is vital.

“Suicide and self-harm, especially suicide, leaves far too many families and people and loved ones across Wales with a hole that can never be filled.”

Mabon ap Gwynfor, Plaid Cymru’s shadow minister, raised concerns about the planned reprioritisation of £15m from the mental health budget.

Plaid Cymru MS Mabon ap Gwynfor
Plaid Cymru MS Mabon ap Gwynfor

‘Damning indictment’

He said: “It is a tragedy and a damning indictment of how our society is failing the most vulnerable that suicide is the main cause of death for men under the age of 50.

“My own family and too many others here continue to grieve and suffer … suicide rates for both men and women remain high and well above the average for England and Wales.”

Calling for a focus on prenatal mental health, Mr Gwynfor said as many as one in four women experience a mental health problem during pregnancy or in the year after birth.

He told the chamber: “The first 1,000 days of a child’s life are instrumental in shaping their lifelong well-being….

“If we are to develop a truly holistic and preventative mental health strategy, it must be effective at the very start of life.”

‘Personal battles’

Jack Sargeant – who recently shared his own experience with mental health following the loss of his father, Carl, and best friend of 20 years, Jamie – welcomed the draft strategies.

Labour MS Jack Sargeant
Labour MS Jack Sargeant

He said: “I shared that experience and the experience of my own personal battles with mental health because I want to help others. I genuinely want to help others. I don’t want another family to go through what mine and Jamie’s had to.”

The Alyn and Deeside MS applauded the example set by Connah’s Quay Town Football Club, which encourages players and fans to seek support.

Jayne Bryant, a fellow Labour backbencher, who chairs the Senedd’s cross-party group on suicide prevention, raised social determinants of poor mental health.

The Newport West MS warned that poverty and inequality remain key risk factors.

‘What if?’

Huw Irranca-Davies spoke of losing a childhood friend to suicide.

The Labour MS for Ogmore said: “One of our tight little group took his own life, out of the blue – the most vivacious, the most outgoing, the most extroverted, the most talented of all of us, and I often stop and think, ‘What if?’”

Labour MS Huw Irranca-Davies
Labour MS Huw Irranca-Davies

Stressing that mental health remains a priority, Ms Neagle told MSs that the funding ring fenced for frontline services has increased by £25m.

“We are committed to reducing the number of people who die by suicide,” she said. “As far as I’m concerned, one person dying by suicide is one too many.

“The rates have been largely stable over the last few years, but we want to drive those rates down much further, and that’s what this new strategy is about.”

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