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Welsh Government unveils ten-year mental health and suicide strategies

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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.”

‘Overwhelmed’

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.”

‘Vital’

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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Health

Doctors to enter pay negotiations with the Welsh Government

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BMA CYMRU Wales has suspended forthcoming industrial action for Consultants and SAS doctors following a constructive meeting with the Welsh government to resolve its pay disputes.

As a result of sustained pressure, including three rounds of industrial action by junior doctors in Wales, the Welsh Government has made a significant proposal to form the basis of talks to end the pay disputes with all secondary care doctors including Consultants, SAS and Junior doctors.

Since the meeting last week, the committees representing doctors from all three branches of practice have voted to enter pay negotiations based on this proposal.

The planned 48-hour strike by Consultants and SAS doctors due to take place from 16 April will now be suspended.

Junior doctors have paused plans to announce more strike dates whilst they enter negotiations with the Welsh Government.

The Welsh junior doctors committee, Welsh SAS committee and Welsh consultants committee will now each engage in pay negotiations, with the aim of reaching deals which can be taken separately to their respective members.

Dr Oba Babs Osibodu and Dr Peter Fahey co-chairs of the BMA’s Welsh Junior doctors Committee said:

“This is a significant step forward. It is sad that we had to take industrial action to get here, but we are proud of members for demonstrating their resolve in pursuit of a fair deal for the profession.

“Whilst we are optimistic and hope to quickly resolve our dispute, we remain steadfast in achieving pay restoration. Until we reach a deal, nothing is off the table.

 “We will continue to work hard to reach an offer that is credible to put to members who will ultimately have the final say.”

Dr Stephen Kelly, chair of BMA Cymru Wales’ Consultants committee said:

“The Welsh Government’s recent efforts to reach an end to the pay dispute are encouraging and so we have called off our planned strike for now whilst we allow time and space for negotiations to take place.

“We’re hopeful that we can reach a deal that sufficiently addresses years of erosion to our pay to help retain senior doctors in Wales but remain ready to strike if we’re not able to do so during negotiations.”

Dr Ali Nazir, chair of BMA Cymru Wales’ SAS doctor committee said:

“As a committee, we felt that this latest development goes someway to understanding the strength of feeling of our members. We will work hard to reach a settlement that sufficiently meets the expectation of our colleagues who have faced real terms pay cuts of up to a third since 2008/9.”

In August last year, the BMA’s committees representing secondary care doctors in Wales voted to enter into separate trade disputes with the Welsh Government after being offered another below inflation pay uplift of just 5% for the 23/24 financial year. SAS doctors on some contracts were offered as little as 1.5%. This was the lowest pay offer any government in the UK offered and less than the DDRB, the pay review body for doctors and dentists, recommended last year.

As part of their disputes, SAS doctors, consultants and junior doctors carried out successful ballots for industrial action. Since then, junior doctors have taken part in 10 days of industrial action since January this year.

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Health

BMA pay disputes – Junior Doctors, Consultants and Specialist Doctors

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THE WELSH Government and BMA Wales’ three national committees representing consultants, SAS doctors and junior doctors have today agreed to formal negotiations about pay.

Planned industrial action will be suspended during the negotiations.

A mandate is being developed for the talks with all three BMA branches of practice with the aim of resolving the disputes over pay for 2023-24.

In the context of the most challenging financial position the Welsh Government has faced since devolution, a significant amount of work has been undertaken to identify funding to support the negotiations.

First Minister Vaughan Gething said: “We recognise the strength of feeling among BMA members and that industrial action is never taken lightly.

“This is a government that listens and engages to find solutions. I prioritised a meeting with the BMA directly alongside the Cabinet Secretary for Health to reinforce our commitment to that partnership approach.

“We currently face the most severe financial situation in the devolution era which makes our task far harder. Despite this backdrop, we have worked to identify a way forward that I hope will lead to the successful resolution of this dispute and ensure that doctors can return to work in NHS Wales.”

Cabinet Secretary for Health Eluned Morgan added: “Even in these very challenging circumstances, we have worked in social partnership with the BMA and NHS to maintain patent safety during industrial action.

“But the strikes have been very disruptive to the delivery of NHS services – none of us want to see doctors on strike. I am pleased the three BMA committees have agreed to pause further industrial action and begin formal talks with Welsh Government and hope we can bring an end to this dispute.”

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Health

NHS dental charges in Wales to increase from April

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THE COST of NHS dental treatment in Wales will increase from 1 April 2024.

The increase in dental charges is the first since April 2020 and are overall still lower than in England. Any revenue generated from the increased charges will be re-invested back into NHS dentistry services.

From April 2024, the three standard charges will increase to between £20.00 and £260.00 depending on the treatment required, and urgent treatment will increase to £30.00.

Around 50% of people receive NHS dental treatment for free in Wales. Those eligible for free treatment include children under 18 or those aged 18 and in full time education, pregnant women or those who have had a baby within the 12 months of treatment starting, anyone who has dentistry treatment carried out in a hospital or people on certain benefits.

Additionally, the low-income scheme provides full or partial help with health costs, depending on individual circumstances.

Despite pressure on budgets the Welsh Government has increased investment for dentistry, with funding £27 million higher than it was in 2018 to 2019. Included within this increase is an additional £2 million a year to address local access issues.

Changes to the dentistry contract in Wales include a requirement for NHS practices to see new patients. Since this was introduce in April 2022, 312,000 people who couldn’t get an appointment before have now received NHS dental treatment.

Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care, Eluned Morgan, said: “Because of the extreme pressure on our budget we have had to consider if additional funding should be raised by increasing dentistry charges.

“This is the first increase we have made to dentistry charges since 2020. Around half of patients don’t pay for their NHS dental treatment and we will continue to protect those that are least able to afford to pay.

“It is vital we all keep our teeth and gums healthy. This is why we are working to make it easier for people to see an NHS dentist by increasing the number of new NHS places and helping dentists to focus on those who need help by changing how often we see a dentist for routine appointments.”

Commenting on the announcement Russell George MS, Welsh Conservative Shadow Health Minister said: “Vaughan Gething’s arrogant choice to hike up dental charges for the people Wales, rather than cut his Labour Government’s wasteful spending is wrong.

“All standard charges are being increased for dental services by the Labour Welsh Government, including for urgent treatment, which will add to cost-of-living pressures.

“While Welsh Conservatives agree that dental services require greater investment after years of Labour underfunding them, ministers should look at cutting vanity projects like their plans to create more politicians before passing on the cost to patients.”

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