Plenary Statement by the Minister for Health and Social Services

TITLE Coronavirus (COVID-19)



22 April 2020




Vaughan Gething AM, Minister for Health and Social Services


 I am going to give an update to members on a range of issues related to our response to coronavirus.

We are continuing to maintain supply of PPE to front line health and social care workers, and are working on a Wales and UK basis to secure robust supply arrangements going forward.

As of last week, we had issued more than 16.2 million items of PPE to the NHS and local authorities from the pandemic stores. This pandemic stock forms part of 48.3 million PPE items issued to healthcare staff in Wales since 9 March. Supplies have been distributed to hospitals, GP surgeries, the Welsh Ambulance Service, pharmacies and to all local authorities to be sent to social care settings throughout Wales.

I want to recognise the significant work that has been undertaken to establish new structures to deliver PPE from our national supplies to all our vital services; including to our independent providers. I’d like to extend my thanks to all involved; our health and Local Authority partners, our social care providers and local resilience forum coordinators.

In any operation of this scale there will be times when things don’t work as we would like. I am acutely conscious of the stress and anxiety felt by front line staff if they are unsure if vital equipment will be available when they need it. Trades Unions have been key in identifying these issues in real time at workplace level allowing employers to respond quickly to shortages and enabling us to improve and refine the process.

The worldwide demand for PPE is creating an insecure and unpredictable market. The recent example of the delay in the arrival of an order from Turkey has put this firmly in the public domain. Some countries have taken the decision to stop export of PPE supplies and other supply routes have experienced significant delays.

We are taking a multi-faceted approach to ensuring the required ongoing supply of PPE in Wales. This includes:

  • working with other home nations across the UK to pool our procurement efforts and bring in vital new stocks,
  • our usual Welsh arrangements,
  • procurement of additional PPE supplies using the National Procurement Service, and
  • working with Welsh businesses to produce PPE in Wales.

In addition to working jointly with England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, we are also actively mobilising industry in Wales to supplement this UK supply route through innovation and new manufacturing routes.

The First Minister recently called on Welsh businesses and manufacturers to help produce a Welsh supply of PPE to support our frontline health and social care staff. The Life Sciences Hub Wales is working with Welsh industry to develop these ideas. Our approach is intended to maximise all the opportunities available to us, recognising the scale of the demand and the challenging global market which we are operating in.

We have had a tremendous response from Welsh companies to date. In North Wales we have Brodwaith on Anglesey making 2k scrubs a months, we also have Worksafe Workwear in Ruthin and they are producing 2.4k scrubs a month.  One of these companies used to make pyjamas and the other used to make bags. They have both adapted their processes in a matter of weeks to producing Scrubs.

The Royal Mint and the Rototherm Group are making face visors and shields to be worn by healthcare staff. The gin distillery, In The Welsh Wind, is making World Health Organisation-approved hand sanitiser. We have been struck by the level of innovation and support offered from all parts of Wales.

The demand for PPE will continue to be well above normal for the foreseeable future. The actions we are taking in Wales are all directed at ensuring continued supply of PPE for the staff who need it to continue to undertake their work safely.

It is also important that guidelines are followed properly and that PPE is used in accordance with the current guidance

 On 15th April I commissioned a review which focused on the key elements of our plan for testing critical workers, including our testing capacity; our access to testing; and the testing referral and results process. Following the review I can confirm that:

  • Our current testing capacity is now 1,800 tests a day.
  • I have made £50 million of Welsh Government funding available to bring in further equipment, reagents and other activity to increase our testing capacity.
  • Mass drive in testing centres are in operation in Cardiff and Newport and new testing infrastructure is planned for north and south west Wales shortly to boost the existing testing arrangements already in place.
  • we are piloting a web-based booking platform this week,
  • We have removed the ceiling on referrals per local authority, and we have published a new Critical Worker Policy which extends the number of groups that can now be tested.
  • We are now testing all symptomatic care home residents and all care home residents returning from hospital.
  • All symptomatic care home workers can now also be referred for testing

I remain confident that our plan sets out the right approach to ensure we are delivering the right testing, when and where it is needed – both in the short and long the term. I am also confident that at this point in time we are testing the right people.

It’s important we understand why the UK has seen a disproportionate number of people from ethnic minorities becoming critically ill due to Covid-19. Yesterday I confirmed that we would be contributing to the review, led by Public Health England and NHS England exploring the role of pre-existing medical conditions.

Welsh Government officials will mobilise efforts to establish whether there are any identifiable factors that could help inform decisions on whether we need to give different public advice regarding comorbidities, isolation, shielding and personal protective equipment in relation to people from BAME backgrounds.

We will be working with representatives from our BAME communities here in Wales to help us shape this work going forward.

Children’s social care and safeguarding are major concerns of the Welsh Government and key stakeholders. We understand that services are under pressure, and yet at the same time we know that the emergency is placing great strain all those involved in the lives of vulnerable children.

To support local authority social services departments and partners in addressing these challenges, I am pleased to announce that the Welsh Government has published Operational Guidance for Children’s Social Services.

Developed through close working with stakeholders, it sets out the measures that should be put in place to minimise the impact of the pandemic; helping local authorities and partners to continue to provide effective support to vulnerable, at risk and care experienced children, whilst maintaining their statutory duties.

Safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility. I am concerned about the reduction in referrals and reports of concern for adults and children at risk of harm, abuse or neglect during the coronavirus outbreak.

I would like to remind everyone that social services departments are operating as normal and are able to respond to any concerns that people may have. If you feel that anyone, whether this is an adult or child, may be at risk of abuse, harm or neglect you can report this by dialling 101 or by contacting your Local Authority Social Services Department. Help is also available via the Live Fear Free helpline for anyone who has concerns regarding anyone who may be experiencing domestic abuse or sexual violence.

I would urge you all to be more vigilant at this time and stress that support remains available, even more so during the corona virus outbreak.”

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