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Health

Apologies to victims of ‘the greatest scandal in the history of the NHS’

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WALES’ health secretary apologised to victims of the contaminated blood scandal, describing it as the greatest treatment scandal in the history of the health service.

Leading a Senedd debate on the infected blood inquiry, Eluned Morgan said the Welsh Government has started work to consider Sir Brian Langstaff’s recommendations.

More than 30,000 people in the UK were infected with HIV or hepatitis C by contaminated blood between 1970 and 1991, with more than 3,000 people dying as a result.

She said: “We must do better than the denials, the false reassurances, the complacency, the cover-ups, the obfuscations and the repeated failures at an individual, institutional and government level that characterised and compounded this awful tragedy.”

Although the scandal predates devolution by decades, Baroness Morgan apologised to all those who were infected with tainted blood or have been affected by the disaster.

Mabon ap Gwynfor told the chamber Sir Brian’s report was an “utterly damning indictment of an entrenched culture of institutional abuse, governmental neglect and political obfuscation”.

Plaid Cymru’s shadow health secretary hoped the report would prove a watershed moment in addressing an imbalance of power at the heart of the criminal justice system.

He said: “From the Hillsborough disaster to the Post Office Horizon scandal, the wheels of justice can often turn far too slowly when it comes to the misdemeanours of the wealthy.”

Sam Rowlands, his Conservative counterpart, described the infected blood scandal as one of the most grotesque miscarriages of justice in British history.

He welcomed the Victims and Prisoners Bill, which will create an arm’s-length body to administer compensation to victims, passing through Parliament pre-general election.

Julie Morgan, who has campaigned on the issue for decades as an MS and an MP for Cardiff North, paid tribute to those who had their lives incomprehensibly turned upside down.

She said: “When haemophilia patients were told about their HIV diagnosis, it was a terrifying ordeal – a death sentence, with life-expectancy estimates of between two and five years.

“The stigma was horrendous and the majority of patients kept their status secret.”

Stressing the importance of implementing the recommendations, Ms Morgan warned many people are worried about false hope because it has taken 40 years to get to this point.

Plaid Cymru leader Rhun ap Iorwerth, who chairs the Senedd’s cross-party group on haemophilia and infected blood, agreed that the fight for justice must continue.

Mark Isherwood, the Conservative MS for North Wales, said the five-year inquiry found infected blood was not an accident and was avoidable.

He said: “Contaminated blood has had and continues to have a devastating impact on the lives of thousands of infected people and their families.”

John Griffiths, a Labour backbencher, who has represented Newport East since 1999, joined other members in paying tribute to campaigner Lynne Kelly, who chairs Haemophilia Wales.

Highlighting the stigma around HIV/AIDS at the time, he said the family home of Colin John Smith, who died aged seven weighing only 13lb, was daubed with abuse and graffiti.

Mr Griffiths told the chamber: “It was a terrible scandal and indictment of the systems at the time – and so many families suffered in the way that these families did.”

Plaid Cymru’s Sioned Williams raised the concerns of two sisters from the Swansea valley, whose father Arwyn Davies died in 1992 due to the “appalling, unforgivable” scandal.

She said: “To date, children who lost parents, like Rhian and Sharon, have never been provided with compensation or recognition of their father’s death. They haven’t even received a letter of apology from their local health board.”

Hefin David, who is vice-chair of the cross-party group, paid tribute to campaigners in his constituency, including Nicholas Moran, Susan Hughes, Janet Morgan, and Kirk Ellis.

Wearing a tie in the campaign’s colours, the Labour MS for Caerphilly raised Mr Ellis’ concerns about the UK Government’s proposed lump-sum compensation scheme.

Dr David said: “He points out that in Scotland the Scottish Government has guaranteed that ongoing current support payments are for life, as well as the lump-sum compensation payments proposed by the UK Government in response to Sir Brian’s report.”

Outside the Senedd, Dr David said: “It has taken us a long time to get to where we are today, and it is a tribute to the hard work of campaigners and all those who have been affected by this scandal, whether directly or indirectly. 

“The role of my constituents who have regularly contacted me about this issue over the years cannot be understated.

“I have done a lot of work with Kirk Ellis in particular, who is from Caerphilly. These residents wanted me to tell their story of how the infected blood scandal affected them and their loved ones, but they also want to raise concerns about how the UK Government could implement a proposed compensation scheme going forward”.

Dr David highlighted the need for the UK Government to work with the Welsh Government and implement the report’s recommendations “in full and without delay”.

Plaid Cymru’s Luke Fletcher said Debroah James, a constituent from Bridgend, has fought for 42 years to uncover the truth of the death of her brother, who was a police officer.

He said: “People in positions of authority vilified these families for raising concerns, accused them of lying, accused them of giving life to rumours. Corruption is the long and short of it, isn’t it – a bid to save money. What an indictment of our system.”

Labour backbencher Jenny Rathbone agreed that it is more than a treatment scandal, saying: “This is about a criminal cover-up.”

The Cardiff Central MS backed Sir Brian’s calls for a legal duty of candour for civil servants and ministers to ensure they are not “continuing to be less than candid with the truth”.

Acknowledging concerns about unrecognised cases, Baroness Morgan said part of the issue is problems with NHS records that are required to make compensation claims.

She said the Welsh Government has established a new infected blood inquiry group, chaired by Push Mangat, the new deputy chief medical officer, to consider the next steps.

She explained: “It will work with health boards, the Welsh Blood Service, Public Health Wales and policy officials to ensure we look at the wrongs of the past and work together to ensure this can never happen again.”

Closing the debate on June 4, Baroness Morgan said: “Tonight I think we unite as a chamber and as a parliament, and I’m sure you’ll join with me to pay tribute to those who have suffered as a result of this – the greatest scandal in the history of the NHS.”

MSs unanimously supported the Welsh Government motion and Plaid Cymru amendments.

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Welsh Government under fire over NHS escalation levels

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THE WELSH GOVERNMENT has maintained the escalation statuses of NHS trusts, special health authorities (SHAs), and health boards in Wales amid ongoing financial, operational, and staffing pressures. Eluned Morgan MS, Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care, announced the decision today, emphasising that the challenges faced by these bodies are not unique to Wales.

The current statuses indicate varying levels of intervention and monitoring. Notably, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board remains at Level 5, denoting special measures, while several other boards are under enhanced monitoring or targeted intervention.

In response, Sam Rowlands MS, Welsh Conservative Shadow Health Minister, criticised the decision, accusing the Labour Welsh Government of failing to make any progress. He highlighted that all health boards remain escalated to at least Level 3 and questioned the Level 1 status of the Welsh Ambulance Services University NHS Trust, given that less than half of red ambulance calls are reached within the target time.

Rowlands reiterated the Welsh Conservatives’ call for a comprehensive workforce plan and full allocation of health spending to address these issues.

The Welsh Government today announced no changes to the current escalation statuses of NHS trusts and health boards across Wales, despite significant pressures. Eluned Morgan MS, the Health Secretary, stated that these bodies are still grappling with financial and operational challenges, which are not unique to Wales.

NHS Escalation Statuses:

  • Aneurin Bevan UHB: Level 4 for finance, strategy, and planning; Level 3 for urgent care at Grange University Hospital
  • Betsi Cadwaladr UHB: Level 5, special measures
  • Cardiff and Vale UHB: Level 3, enhanced monitoring
  • Cwm Taf Morgannwg UHB: Level 4 for performance; Level 3 for finance
  • Hywel Dda UHB: Level 4, targeted intervention
  • Powys Teaching HB: Level 3, enhanced monitoring
  • Swansea Bay UHB: Level 4 for performance; Level 3 for finance, maternity, and neonatal services
  • Public Health Wales, Velindre, Welsh Ambulance, Digital Health and Care, Health Education and Improvement Wales: Level 1, routine arrangements

Sam Rowlands MS, Welsh Conservative Shadow Health Minister, lambasted the government for making “zero progress” and criticised the decision to keep the ambulance service at Level 1 despite poor response times for serious calls. He called for a substantial workforce plan and full health spending allocation to improve the situation.

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Health

‘We are not for sale’ – Young people back plan to remove profit from care

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FOUR remarkable young people gave evidence to the Senedd’s health committee about their experiences of Wales’ social care system, supporting plans to stamp out profiteering.

Mark Drakeford asked the witnesses if they agreed with the principle of the health and social care bill, which would remove profit from the care of looked-after children.

Elliott James told the former first minister – who introduced the proposal while leading the Welsh Government – that for every £10 given for a child in care, £3 is taken away in profit.

He said one relatively standard residential placement can cost as much as £5,000 a week, with support workers paid a “shockingly” low amount.

Elliott stressed: “At the moment, companies are profiting off us and we are not for sale.”

Joanne Griffith similarly said: “We are not in the care system for people to profit off us – we don’t choose to go in the system, the system chooses us.

“Why should people be able to gain money … and spend it on whatever they want when in actual fact the money should be going to the young people, so that we can thrive?”

She added: “Put yourselves in our shoes, you probably wouldn’t want to be profited off.”

Rhian Thomas and Rowan Gray wholeheartedly agreed with the principle. But Rowan raised concerns for-profit providers “could end up packing up and going elsewhere”.

Elliott raised concerns about children being placed a long way from home, saying: It’s not just about the profit, it’s about the care of young people as a whole.

“A lot of young people are being let down currently.”

He said: “Moving a child hundreds of miles away isn’t always suitable….

“These placements can’t commit to contact, they can’t commit to free time so that leaves us not being able to see our family, not being able to go and see our friends.”

He warned that placements for children and young people with severe mental health problems are more than likely to break down because carers cannot cope.

Elliott said: “Unfortunately, the system thinks as soon as we enter care, all of our problems have been solved. They haven’t. We are still deeply traumatised young people who need care, love and support.”

While recognising the need for emergency placements, Elliot raised concerns about children moving from one to the next until a suitable placement is found.

He asked: “Why can’t we be placed into a suitable placement the first time around?”

Elliott told the Senedd some young people are “placement hoppers”, going to as many as 10 or 20 different placements in one week.

He said he was given only an hour-and-a-half notice before going into care and nobody was trained to really understand his autism.

“I was always left to suffer by myself because nobody knew how to help me,” he said, warning that symptoms of autism were treated as a behavioural issue.

Rhian stressed the importance of keeping siblings together and support for young people transitioning into care or adulthood.

She told Senedd members: “When you first come into care that’s the hardest part of it all.”

Rowan said it is vital to match the children going into care with the right foster carers.

“My last placement was with some people that were in their 60s,” he said. “When I was younger, I had a lot of energy and I was always wanting to do something.”

He told committee members the foster carers did the best they could but he wanted to build memories and they were sometimes not able to take part in activities he found fun.

Rowan was placed “out in the middle of nowhere” more than 10 miles from home.

“I didn’t have anyone around my own age who I could build friendships with,” he said.

Calling for more accountability, he told the Senedd: “If my local authority had actually done what they said they were going to do, I wouldn’t be sat here.

“I would be currently in Bristol living with my mother. Because there was no accountability … they went back on their word … and I ended up in long-term foster care.”

Joanne raised the importance of stability and continuity of care.

She told the committee: “It’s really important that we have a placement that we know we can stay in permanently and we’re not going to be moved within 24 hours … or a week.”

Joanne added: “We need a placement that we can call home.”

She called for compulsory training around mental health and disability, so “we know if we have an issue we can go to the foster carers and we’re not going to get stigmatised for it”.

Joanne also called for more unannounced visits to build up a more accurate picture.

The health committee is scrutinising the bill, aiming to report back to the Senedd in October, ahead a vote on the general principles with amending stages to follow.

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Health

Senedd backs call for more dentists in Wales

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THE SENEDD called on the Welsh Government to increase the number of training places for dentists amid warnings about “dental deserts” across the country.

Siân Gwenllian led a cross-party debate on dentistry training, with the Conservatives and Lib Dems joining forces with Plaid Cymru to amplify concerns about poor access to services.

Ms Gwenllian said a shortage of dentists exacerbates Wales’ “three-tier” system, with none of the practices in her Arfon constituency taking on new NHS patients.

She said: “A three-tier system where some are fortunate to access an NHS dentist, others can pay to go privately and the third tier, unfortunately, are those who can’t access NHS dentistry and can’t afford to pay to go privately.

“I don’t have to outline the problems that emerge for those in the third tier. Members are only too familiar with horrific stories about sepsis and do-it-yourself dentistry.”

Ms Gwenllian told the chamber, or Siambr, a common-sense solution would be to increase the number of university training places.

“But, to the contrary, the government sets a cap on the number of places that can be provided in our only school of dentistry in Cardiff – an annual cap of 74 places,” she said. 

The former councillor and journalist criticised a new dental workforce strategy, saying it does not commit to any specific increase in educational or training provision for dentists.

Pointing to a Tory commitment to a 24% increase in undergraduate places in England, she said: “Unfortunately, the party of Aneurin Bevan hasn’t shown the same ambition.

“And it is depressing and it’s a stain on Wales that the ability of a number of our constituents to access dentistry is reliant on their ability to pay.”

The Plaid Cymru politician argued having one school of dentistry in south Wales will never be sufficient to meet the needs of the whole country.

Sam Rowlands, the Conservatives’ shadow health secretary, said provision in north Wales is “simply not good enough” as he raised concerns about “dental deserts”.

He agreed that 74 places a year is not enough to plug the gap as he echoed calls for a “fully funded and fully functioning” dental school in his region.

Carolyn Thomas, who also represents North Wales, said people across the UK are struggling to access NHS dentists, with nine in ten not accepting new patients.

The Labour member recognised Wales-specific challenges on recruitment and retention, but pointed to progress with the dental academy in Bangor.

She told the chamber Labour has a fully costed plan to “rescue” dentistry at a UK level which will lead to much-needed consequential funding for Wales.

Mabon ap Gwynfor, Plaid Cymru’s shadow health secretary, raised concerns about a “failure to retain dentists and an even greater failure to train new dentists”.

Mr ap Gwynfor said only eight people from Wales got a place on Cardiff’s dentistry course last year, with only about half of the wider annual cohort choosing to stay in Wales.

Rhys ab Owen criticised a lack of data, saying: “It’s astonishing that we can’t say here and now in the Senedd how many people are waiting to see a dentist under the health service.”

Mr ab Owen raised a constituent’s concerns about their son, who was referred aged 11, having to wait nine years until he is 20 for orthodontic treatment.

The independent, who represents South Wales Central, said: “My constituent’s son has experienced bullying, his confidence has been knocked and his self-esteem damaged.”

Eluned Morgan told the July 3 debate that NHS dentistry has been a key priority since she became Wales’ health minister four years ago.

Providing an update on the recommendations of a 2023 health committee report on dentistry, Baroness Morgan said work on an all-Wales central waiting list is under way.

The health secretary reiterated that the key aim of dental reforms was new patients who have historically struggled to get access to NHS dental care.

Baroness Morgan said 500,000 people who had not received NHS dental care for more than four years have gained access since the reforms restarted in April 2022.

She said: “It’s interesting to note that an incoming Labour Government is also planning to deliver new NHS appointments, but proportionally we’re streets ahead of where the UK Tory Government was in terms of NHS access by new patients.”

Turning to dental training places, she stressed the need to take a “long-term evidence-based view” and be careful not to “over-focus” on dentists.

Baroness Morgan, a former member of the European parliament, said any increase would be difficult due to financial challenges and a lack of spaces at Cardiff’s dental school.

She said a second school would be the best option but warned: “That would mean a great deal of investment and financial pressures don’t allow that at present.”

However, she encouraged a joint proposal from Aberystwyth and Bangor universities.

The motion – which was co-submitted by Ms Gwenllian and Jane Dodds, the Lib Dems leader in Wales – was agreed with 29 for, none against and 15 abstentions.

Seven Labour backbenchers voted in favour.

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