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Health

Two-fifths of adults’ sex lives impacted by health problems in Wales

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TWO in five (40%) people aged 18 and over in Wales say their sex life has at some point been affected by illness, injury, a health condition or disability. And around one in three (32%) say health problems have affected their relationship. That’s according to a new survey by the Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCOT). In the lead up to Valentine’s Day, the findings support expert advice on improving your sex life, intimacy and relationship from occupational therapists.

According to the poll, around one in seven (14%) adults in Wales say their or their partner’s lack of understanding of the other person’s health condition has caused problems in their relationship. And more than one in five (22%) said the impact of their or their partner’s health condition has caused relationship problems.

With around half (48%) of adults in the UK affected by long-standing health problem1, there is a clear need for more support for people with health challenges to be able to maintain healthy connections and stable relationships. For many, improving communication could help.

The poll found that almost one in three (28%) people in Wales would break up with someone if they thought the sex was bad. The top causes of problems in a relationship in Wales are: stress (23%), poor communication and financial pressures (both 22%), and not sharing chores (19%).

Lauren Walker, Professional Advisor at the Royal College of Occupational Therapists, says:

‘There’s more to a relationship than sex, and – as our survey shows – communication is absolutely key. While, for many of us, sex is an important part of a relationship, there are many other components to a stable and healthy relationship.

‘It’s surprising to see just how many adults’ relationships and sex lives have been affected by long-term illness, injury, health condition or disability in Wales. And it’s a concern that so many of these people feel their relationship is affected by a lack of understanding or simply the impact of a health problem. This is where occupational therapists come in. We work with people to address both physical and psychological challenges around sex and intimacy. We help them to overcome barriers that they’re facing in their romantic and sexual relationships.

‘Ahead of Valentine’s Day, the best place to start is by having a conversation with your partner about your relationship and your sex life. It can be difficult and uncomfortable, so make sure you’re in a relaxed environment. If you need to, ask a friend if you can role play the conversation beforehand, or practice in a mirror, so you have an idea of what you want to say.’

Occupational therapists work with people of all ages who have a wide range of conditions, helping them overcome challenges completing everyday occupations, also known tasks or activities. This can include intimacy and sex, within the context of long-term health conditions, illness, injury or disability. They work with the person as an individual, look at their environment, and may suggest equipment, lifestyle changes, stress management or communication techniques and resources to help someone improve their relationship, intimacy and sex life.

RCOT has released expert advice from occupational therapists for improving your sex life, intimacy and relationship as part of its ongoing Lift Up Your Everyday campaign. It provides examples of the type of advice an occupational therapist would give as part of a personal, realistic and practical plan for an individual. The advice is available at rcot.co.uk/relationships

To find out more about what an occupational therapist does, or to find a registered occupational therapist, visit rcot.co.uk

Health

Welsh cancer care in peril as workforce crisis escalates, warn radiologists

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THE ROYAL College of Radiologists (RCR) has issued a stark warning about the escalating workforce crisis in Wales, revealing alarming shortfalls in clinical radiologists and oncologists.

Two new reports highlight a dire situation: Wales faces a 34% shortfall in clinical radiologists and a 12% shortfall in clinical oncologists. Without immediate action, these shortfalls are projected to rise to 28% and 38%, respectively, by 2028, the largest in the UK. Additionally, nearly a quarter (24%) of clinical oncology consultants in Wales are expected to retire in the next five years, compared to the UK average of 18%. Currently, trainees make up 29% of Wales’s clinical oncology workforce, slightly below the UK average of 32%.

Patient safety is at risk due to the critical shortage of radiologists. Wales has only 6.1 radiologists per 100,000 people, the lowest ratio among the four nations. All clinical directors in Wales report that they lack sufficient radiologists to provide safe and effective patient care. Cancer centres are experiencing routine delays in starting treatment and are struggling to manage increasing demand, relying heavily on goodwill, insourcing, and locums. Such delays are critical for cancer patients, as each month’s delay in treatment raises the risk of death by approximately 10%.

Despite the implementation of the Cancer Improvement Plan for Wales a year ago, the workforce crisis continues to worsen due to insufficient training and retention efforts. Hospitals are struggling to meet patient demand, and this issue is one of the most pressing challenges that the UK governments must address urgently.

The reports also reveal significant regional disparities in access to cancer care across Wales. Rural areas are the hardest hit. South West Wales has 7.4 clinical oncologists per 100,000 older residents, South East Wales has 6.6, but North Wales lags behind with just 5.3. North and West Wales suffer from the UK’s largest shortage of clinical radiologists, with London having twice as many radiologists per 100,000 people. This disparity leads to faster imaging test results and cancer treatment initiation in some regions, causing significant delays and increased anxiety in others.

An anonymous consultant stated, “I can no longer defend the NHS as an exemplary healthcare system. We are all failing and in so doing failing our patients.”

The RCR has written to the cabinet secretary, warning that without immediate intervention, Wales risks undoing decades of progress in cancer care. The RCR demands urgent investment in workforce development to ensure patients are not left waiting for a diagnosis and can begin lifesaving treatment promptly. They urge the next government to collaborate with the NHS to outline a plan to recruit, train, and retain clinical oncologists and radiologists, ensuring workforce stability for future generations.

Dr Katharine Halliday, RCR President, said, “Today’s reports lay bare a harsh reality: the crisis in Wales’ radiology and oncology workforce is jeopardising patient health. Despite our commitment to providing the best care, severe staff shortages are significantly impeding our efforts. We simply do not have enough doctors to safely manage the growing number of patients, and this issue will worsen as demand rises and more doctors leave the NHS. The immense strain on an overburdened system, coupled with exhausted staff and increasing demand, creates a toxic mix for the healthcare system in Wales.

“Urgent action from the governments of all four nations is essential. We must prioritise recruiting and training more doctors and implement strategies to retain our current workforce. Time is critical; doctors are working under extreme stress and are deeply concerned for their patients. We’re calling on the governments of all four nations to reset the system, save our NHS, and ensure that patients receive the quality care they deserve.”

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Health

Disabled people facing ‘David and Goliath’ battle for support

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DISABLED people too often face a David and Goliath-style battle for support under Wales’ health and social care system, a committee heard.

The Senedd health committee took evidence about the Welsh Government’s plans to reform direct payments which allow disabled people to arrange their own care and support.

Nathan Lee Davies, an author, artist, and activist from Wrexham, told the committee he has had a largely negative experience of direct payments with his local council.

“The local authority has recently clawed back £33,000 of my direct payments,” he said, adding that he finds it difficult to spend his money in the way he would like.

Mr Davies, who has Friedrich’s ataxia, which affects his co-ordination, balance and speech, was saving up for a rainy day as well as a holiday to Florida – his first break in 14 years.

But Wrexham Council demanded the return of “surplus” funds, leading him to launch a successful gofundme campaign to raise money for his dream trip.

Chris Hall, a volunteer who supports Nathan, said the campaigner gets no opportunity to co-produce his “defective, appallingly written” care and support plan.

He said Nathan faces a continual David-and-Goliath battle with a “dysfunctional” direct payments department, warning: “They’re not interested in what Nathan wants.”

He drew a parallel with the victims of scandals around the post office, infected blood, and the Hillsborough disaster – who found themselves isolated and up against big organisations.

Mr Hall told the committee disabled people are too often walking a financial tightrope unable to save money for a potentially catastrophic rainy day.

He stressed that disabled people deserve the opportunity to live a fulfilled life, not just get by.

If passed, the health and social care bill will introduce a right to direct payments via the Continuing NHS Healthcare support service.

Mr Hall warned that disabled people who opt for direct payments for Continuing NHS Healthcare may not be able to go back to receiving support from the council.

“I think Nathan and many people who are disabled say ‘it’s better the devil I know’,” he said.

“Rather than jumping into a swimming pool and saying ‘I’ll see if I can swim’ they’re saying ‘I’ll stay on the edge of the pool – at least I’m not drowning’.”

Shahd Zorob, a fellow campaigner, from Carmarthenshire, warned about more pressure being piled on an already under-strain health service.

Ms Zorob, who has cerebral palsy, also raised concerns about a shortage of personal assistants, saying the pay is simply not good enough.

Mr Hall agreed that there is too often a “revolving door” in terms of support workers, with Mr Davies finding it difficult to recruit and retain staff.

“He’s effectively self-employed and managing ten staff,” he told the meeting on June 12.

Cecilia Kenny, a disability rights campaigner, who is also from Wrexham, called for clearer information and communication around the plans for direct payments via the NHS.

Samantha Williams, policy manager at Learning Disability Wales, supported the reform’s aims but raised concerns about implementation and the administrative burden on families.

Jake Smith, policy officer at Carers Wales, said the bill would potentially increase choice and control for unpaid carers and their loved ones.

Kat Watkins, project development officer at Disability Wales, who recently moved to Continuing NHS Healthcare herself, also welcomed the proposed changes.

She said: “We’ve got a two-tier war between disabled people and people with long-term health conditions who either can have the control over their care or can’t.

“And that is not something that we want in Wales at all.”

Ms Watkins added: “It’s so important for human rights …they may have complex health needs but they still have rights as human beings to have an independent life.”

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Health

Surgery disruption ‘will be minimal’ during telephone system overhaul

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IN response to ongoing issues that have caused significant distress and upset among both patients and staff, Robert Street Surgery has announced a complete overhaul of its telephone system. The decision to adopt a new provider comes after careful consideration of the persistent problems associated with the current phone system.

The transition to the new telephone system is scheduled to take place over two days: Tuesday, July 2, and Wednesday, July 3. According to the practice, the disruption will be minimal, with any loss of service expected to last only a few minutes in total.

Patients are advised to be aware of the potential for unexpected issues during these dates and are requested to bear with the surgery as it navigates the transition. The surgery will remain open as usual on both days. In the event of any difficulties in reaching the practice by phone, patients are encouraged to call into the surgery directly or to email if their concerns are non-urgent.

A spokesperson for the practice expressed confidence that the new system will significantly enhance the patient experience when contacting the surgery in the future. They also extended apologies for any negative experiences patients may have encountered up to now.

On behalf of The Robert Street Practice, the spokesperson thanked patients for their patience and support during this transition period.

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