Update by Health Minister

Welsh Health Minister Vaughan Gething is delivering a statement to the virtual meeting of the Senedd. You can read here:

 

TITLE Coronavirus (COVID-2019) Update
DATE 1 April 2020
BY Vaughan Gething, Minister for Health and Social Services

We continue to see an increase, as expected, in the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Wales. Sadly, we have also had more deaths. My deepest sympathies go out to families that have lost loved ones and my thoughts are with those who are critically ill.

These are truly extraordinary times. However the response from across our public services has also been truly extraordinary to help protect our communities and to save lives.

People are working tirelessly to respond to this public health emergency. That work matters for today, tomorrow and our preparation for the weeks ahead. I am grateful for, and humbled by each and every contribution to this national effort.

The Welsh Government, NHS and social services organisations, had existing plans in place for a flu pandemic. That plan provides us with a solid base to build upon. The plans are being rapidly put in place.

NHS organisations are working to increase the capacity of local services and beds and workforce availability. To put this into context and to demonstrate the scale of this work, the health boards will have in effect created the equivalent of up to 7 000 additional beds. That is effectively double the number of existing NHS beds. This is exceptional in any circumstances.

Significant announcements have been made over the last week. For example, I have approved £8m to enable Cardiff & the Vale University Health Board to work with partners including the WRU to convert the Principality Stadium into a field hospital with up to 2,000 beds – twice the size of UHW. This is in addition to the extra capacity that is being created on the health board’s hospital sites.

Hywel Dda Health Board has well progressed plans on a range of sites including Parc y Scarlets, Carmarthenshire Leisure Centre and Bluestone in Pembrokeshire.  Swansea Bay Health Board has with its 2 local authorities identified leisure centres and the Bay studio in Landarcy.

These are all in addition to the 350 beds which will be available at the new Grange University Hospital from April.

All health boards are developing equivalent capacity plans and specifications for a distributed model of additional bed capacity (or ‘field hospitals’) across Wales.

On critical care, we have already more than doubled the number of beds in Wales to 313. As of yesterday, occupancy of critical care units was about 40%, of which 69% of the patients either have suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19. We will continue with the rapid expansion of critical care bed numbers, which will be supported by the purchase of over 965 additional ventilators, with further options to purchase or manufacture ventilators being urgently explored.

I know that there quite understandably continues to be concern about the availability of personal protection equipment – PPE.

Over the weekend more than 600,000 additional FFP3 respirator masks were delivered to health boards for onward distribution to primary, community and hospital sites, as well as commissioned services such as independent mental health hospitals and hospices. Further deliveries of PPE were also made on Monday and Tuesday to the local authority Joint Community Equipment Stores for Directors of Social Service.

This delivery to the Joint Stores is sufficient to enable Wales’ 600-plus care homes to be provided with PPE to cover 200 interventions. A telephone and email contact has been set up for the NHS and Social Services to use in an emergency if PPE supplies have been disrupted or there has been an unplanned and unforeseen surge in use.

Whilst we face an unprecedented time and increasing demand on our health and care services, the response from our workforce is humbling.

We have and will continue to be innovative in meeting the demands placed on us in this fight against COVID-19. A week ago we asked our newly-retired nurses and doctors to come back to the NHS and they have responded in their number. Already over 1300 health and social care professionals have responded to our call.

Our students are also keen to support us. We are exploring ways to harness the energy and commitment of up to 3,760 of our medical, nursing, midwifery, AHP, paramedic and healthcare scientist’s students.

Working closely with NHS Wales Shared Services Partnership and Health Education and Improvement Wales we have been able to make progress at this unprecedented time.

We have more than 1200 GPs on our Locum Register and we will be asking all GPs to consider what further time and capacity they have. That is why we are also asking all locum GPs to consider a temporary contract with their Health Board. Their expertise can help in so many ways in community and primary care.

These are extraordinary times which call for extraordinary measures. Our uniquely Welsh approach to working in partnership is helping us to make a difference. COVID-Hub Wales will be released later this week to support our extended and evolving recruitment solutions.

To ensure that our primary care services remain resilient through the increased demand on them, we have made significant changes to the way GPs and their multi professional teams, pharmacy teams, dentists and optometrists provide care to patients across Wales. The changes are designed to respond to people with the most urgent needs, whether related to COVID-19 or not and that we minimise the spread of COVID-19.

We are asking providers to work collectively in their communities to deal with this situation and I am pleased that our stakeholders are supporting this approach. I encourage everyone to follow the advice that has been issued on how to access services during this time. I am grateful to our primary care and social care providers for their continued efforts during this situation.

There are approximately 81,000 people in Wales identified as being at very high risk of severe illness from COVID-19. This week, each person has been sent a letter from Wales’ Chief Medical Officer. This letter includes clear advice to stay at home for 12 weeks. The Welsh Government is providing a further £15m to ensure that people in Wales who are not able to leave their homes will get direct deliveries of food and other essential items to their door.

My cabinet colleague Lesley Griffiths has led on our conversations with supermarkets and wholesale suppliers to agree supply and delivery for this group of shielded people in a very short period of time. Julie James is in daily contact with our local authorities. I am very grateful to the local government family for the way that they have responded lead and coordinate community efforts to support people.

Considerable progress has already been made across our health and care system. It would be easy to forget that all of this has been achieved within just a matter of weeks. The work of our public servants and volunteers is truly inspiring.

It is vitally important that we use the weeks ahead to put further preparations in place. These will only be effective if each of us adheres to the social distancing measures.

Stay at home. Protect our NHS. Save lives.

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