Statement by the Minister for Health and Social Services

The Minister’s statement this afternoon focuses on a number of important issues and offers thanks to the public for supporting the actions taken so far to tackle the virus.

TITLE Coronavirus COVID-19 UPDATE
DATE 13 May 2020
BY Vaughan Gething, Minister for Health and Social Services

 

Members will know that I committed to providing regular updates about the Covid-19 developments.

We can see from the data that thankfully:

  • admissions to hospital,
  • the number of people in critical care, and
  • the number of people sadly losing their lives to this virus,

have been falling. But we are not yet sufficiently far along the curve to be able to lift restrictions beyond the steps that the First Minister announced on Friday 8th May.

We must remain vigilant and disciplined in supporting the lockdown so we can continue to protect the NHS and keep people safe.

We have been clear in Wales that we must build on the good work that has been done to date, both by members of the public, and of course by our NHS and social care staff. The ‘stay home, protect the NHS and save lives’ message is still very much at the centre of our strategy and will remain so for at least the next three weeks.

However, we recognise that there is a balance to be struck between the level of harm that COVID-19 is causing us both directly and indirectly.

I issued a written statement last week to alert members to the new Operating Framework that was issued to assist NHS organisation to focus and plan in quarter one. The framework described four levels of harm:

  1. Harm from COVID itself;
  2. Harm from overwhelmed NHS and social care system
  3. Harm from reduction in non-COVID activity
  4. Harm from wider societal actions/lockdown

I want to talk more about the harm from a reduction of non-COVID activity.

There are still many people living with serious conditions that need diagnosis, treatment and ongoing care.

We need to ensure that these people have confidence that they can be treated safely. They need to know that they will receive the same level of care and expertise for urgent treatment and that it is safe to come in for procedures and diagnostics. Ultimately this will come down to discussions between patients and clinicians, with honest conversations about whether there are particular issues to be considered.

The reality is that striking the balance between COVID and non- COVID care must, and will be, done with the utmost care. But the message is clear, the NHS is there for you and open for business.

Mental Health

I want to specifically recognise the ‘harm from a reduction in non-COVID-19 activity’ for those that require support from our mental health services during the pandemic. During these unprecedented times, we must ensure that we maintain parity between physical and mental health services.

The period of lockdown is difficult for many people, but for some people with mental health issues it can be particularly challenging. For some it will have caused their condition to deteriorate; at a time when they are separated from support networks, family and friends and when access to non-emergency services will have changed.

In response, we have worked with our partners to introduce a range of measure measures to provide support to those who may need help and reassurance, including a tailored online information and access to telephone based support.

A Mental Health Covid-19 monitoring tool has been developed to ensure that we receive assurance that mental health services are operating safely and responding appropriately. Health boards are required to submit monitoring information on a weekly basis which are considered by our Mental Health Incident Group. The information provides a live picture of the capacity of mental health services to enable us identify where additional support, advice or guidance is needed.

Whilst service models will have adapted during the pandemic, health boards and partners have reported that they have continued to meet mental health needs during this period. .

NHS Plans

 NHS organisations will submit their Quarter 1 plans next week setting out how they can undertake non-COVID-19 activity. To support this work Public Health Wales working with the Welsh Government and the NHS has developed advice built on three strong pillars:

  1. The need to understand the current infection level and transmission rates for coronavirus in Wales.
  2. Principles which are both grounded in scientific evidence and address the wider social and economic impacts.
  3. The need to Test, Trace and Protect.

I am pleased to announce that today I am publishing our ‘Test, Trace, Protect’ strategy. It sets out how we will work in close partnership with Public Health Wales, Health Boards and Local Authorities to deliver one of the biggest public health interventions of a generation.

Working together we will enhance health surveillance in the community, undertake effective and extensive contact tracing, and support people to self-isolate where required to do so.

To support this activity we will require a testing programme of a different scale.   We have significantly expanded our testing capacity in Wales with laboratory capacity now available to process over 5000 tests a day and with testing centres now open around the country.

We will continue to increase this capacity in Wales over the coming weeks and months, within the range of 10,000 tests a day. This will enable us to test more people staying in hospitals and care settings together with workers in other other critical services.

To support our move to mass population testing, we will draw on the testing programme operating across the UK. NWIS are working with PHW and NHSx to develop a data solution so that test results will be reported electronically back to Wales on an hourly basis. (NHSx is a joint unit bringing together teams from the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England and NHS Improvement to drive the digital transformation of care).

It is crucial that this test record is able to be integrated directly into Welsh clinical record systems.  Participation in the UK programme will significantly further increase the number of tests available and allow people to have tests delivered to their home for them to self-administer.

In total we could eventually require as many as 20,000 tests a day to support:

  • Diagnosis and treatment,
  • Population health surveillance,
  • Contact tracing and,
  • Business continuity,

enabling key workers to return to work more quickly and safely.

But this number is highly dependent on the spread of the disease, the prevalence of symptoms and the emerging evidence on how testing can best be deployed to prevent infection.  We will continue to keep this evidence under review and adapt our estimates of need accordingly.  Combining our own capacity with that of the UK puts us in a strong position to test as needed.

We have to learn to live with the virus circulating in our communities for many months to come. Adopting this approach is a way in which people can be told quickly of their exposure to the virus, so that they in turn can limit their exposure to others. This will help us to prevent infection and track the virus as restrictions are eased.

Finally, the people of Wales are our most important partners. It is only through their willingness to do the right thing – report their symptoms, identify their contacts and heed advice when told to self-isolate – that we can break the chain of transmission.

I want to thank the public for continuing to support the lockdown arrangements. I have been re-assured by the response, both from those within the NHS, social care, policing and the general public, that our cautious and realistic approach has been welcomed.

I do not doubt for one moment that it is difficult to continue with the restrictions that have been imposed. However, keeping these extraordinary measures in place together with the widespread public support for them remains the single most important factor in protecting the NHS and keeping our family, friends and loved ones safe. More than that it makes the biggest difference in keeping people safe who we may never know and may never get the chance to know.

 

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