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New plan to keep Wales open and safe during “challenging” winter ahead

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The First Minister, Mark Drakeford, will today (Friday October 8) publish new plans to help keep Wales open and safe during the difficult autumn and winter months ahead.

The Welsh Government is publishing an updated Coronavirus Control Plan, which outlines the key actions, which could be put in place to control the spread of the virus.

Wales will remain at alert level zero for the next three weeks, following the latest review of the coronavirus regulations. This means all businesses are open and Wales has the lowest level of restrictions.

Speaking ahead of his press conference, First Minister Mark Drakeford said:

“We are facing a challenging winter ahead – coronavirus hasn’t gone away and flu is forecast to return this winter.

“Vaccination is the best defence we have against coronavirus – the more people who are fully vaccinated, the better our chances of controlling the spread of this awful virus.

“We will continue to focus our efforts on increasing take up of the Covid-19 vaccine across the age and priority groups and rolling out the booster vaccine too. We also encourage everyone who is eligible, to have their flu jab this year.

“There is also a range of other measures we can all take to help protect ourselves and our loved ones, such as washing our hands, reducing the number of people we meet and wearing a face covering in indoor public places.

“These measures have helped keep us safe throughout the pandemic and they will also help to protect us from other winter viruses, such as flu and other respiratory infections.”

The latest version of the Coronavirus Control Plan sets out two planning scenarios for the pandemic over the winter – in the first, called Covid Stable, Wales remains at alert level zero through the autumn and winter, with all businesses able to open.

This is thought to be the most likely scenario for the future, as we become used to living with coronavirus and we gradually move out of the pandemic to a position where the virus becomes a seasonal illness.

Under this scenario, if case rates fall, measures could be relaxed further in response, and if they rise, some existing measures could be strengthened to protect people’s health.

The second planning scenario, called Covid Urgent, is designed to deal with any sudden changes to the situation, caused by the emergence of a new, fast-spreading variant or if vaccine immunity levels fall, causing a rise in pandemic pressures, which risk overwhelming the NHS.

In such a scenario, the alert level system and restrictions would be used proportionately, but as a last-resort means, to protect people’s health, control the spread of infections and to protect the NHS.

Help keep Wales safe:

• Get your Covid-19 vaccines, including your booster when invited

• Get tested and self-isolate if you have symptoms

• Outdoors is safer than indoors

• Keep your distance when you can

• Wash your hands regularly

• Wear a face covering in indoor public places

• Keep indoor places well-ventilated

• Work from home whenever possible

• Use a Covid Pass in nightclubs and large events.

Commenting on the First Minister’s announcement Welsh Conservative Shadow Health Minister Russell George MS said:

“Like the First Minister acknowledged, vaccinations have proven to be the key that unlocked society and the economy after severely weakening the link between infection and hospitalisation. To those who have yet to be vaccinated, we urge them to do so and those eligible to get a booster jab.

“However, while we remain at Level 0, new restrictions are coming in as the coercive, ineffective, and anti-business Covid passports will limit our freedoms, fail to limit the spread of coronavirus according to the Welsh Government’s own scientists, and add additional burdens on already stretched businesses.

“There has been a poor communication campaign from the Welsh Government on their introduction, little justification of their effectiveness, a failure to address confusion and fix bugs, and no explanation on how they will police the alternative Covid test system so open to abuse.

“We have passed the peak of infections without further restrictions and passports will do little to stem the problems that has led to the worst-ever A&E waiting times, longest ever NHS treatment backlog, and second slowest ambulance response times built up under Labour mismanagement.

“So instead of further restrictions, we need Labour ministers to bring forward a proper winter pressures plan that introduces the Covid treatment hubs for which Welsh Conservatives have long called for and reverse their damaging decision to bring in Covid passports.”

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Health

Omicron peak could come in ‘the next 10 to 14 days’ in Wales

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THE FIRST MINISTER Mark Drakeford has said he is ‘hopeful’ figures in Wales could start to reduce from around two weeks’ time.

The comments came during the live briefing held yesterday lunchtime in Cardiff, with the First Minister referring to modelling several times and comparing it to what has been recorded in firm figures.

The First Minister said of the above slide, “It shows you how the modelling that we’ve had done for us here in Wales shows how the Omicron wave wave is expected to behave. The blue line shows how cases are predicted to grow over the coming weeks. The black line shows the actual confirmed cases.

“As you can see, the actual cases are following very closely the predicted wave, and what the wave shows is the speed at which the Omicron wave will break over us and then how cases decline at a relatively rapid rate as well.

“Now we haven’t reached the peak of that wave yet, it could be within the next 10 to 14 days. But we will get to the top of the wave and then hopefully we will see the numbers reducing again here in Wales.

“The latest figures show that there are more than 2300 cases per 100,000 people across Wales. Cases are highest amongst 20- to 39-year-olds but we are also now seeing rises in older age groups. As community transmission increases rapidly, while the figures are clearly concerning, they are in line with what the modelling forecasts told us.”

“Every close contact is an opportunity for it to spread.”

Data was also released on the number of people to being admitted to hospital with coronavirus, “The latest figures show that there are now a total of 994, just under 1000, COVID-19 patients in our hospitals in Wales and that is a 43% increase on a single week and that number is the highest we have seen in Welsh hospitals since March of last year”.

“There are now around 40 people are so ill in hospital that they have to receive critical care and the majority of those people are people who have not been vaccinated. Very sadly since just the start of this year, public health Wales has reported 38 New deaths from coronavirus.”

When asked about reversing restrictions, and what timeframes could be involved, the First Minister said, “As people will have seen from the model that we showed earlier, the position over the next 10 days to two weeks is not going to be one that is easing.

“The numbers are likely to continue to rise. So it will not be until we have past the peak of infections and we are sure that we can see the pressures on the spread of this virus in the community are beginning to reduce, and will then take a while as it always does to feed through into reducing pressure on health services, hospital services, critical care services.

“So I don’t anticipate that over the next fortnight we will be in a position to move away from the level of restrictions we currently have in place. But, we will track it every day. We will review it every week. And when we see that corner being turned and we can see the number as we hope coming down reasonably rapidly. That will be the point at which we will be able to assess when it is safe to begin to lift the extra restrictions and protections we put in place so far.”

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Public Health Wales apology over lack of clarity on smear test changes

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PUBLIC HEALTH WALES has apologised and admitted it hasn’t “done enough” to explain the reasons for increasing the length of time between cervical screening tests.

The change, which was announced on Tuesday, means people aged between 25 and 50 with a cervix will now wait five years until another test, rather than three, providing no human papillomavirus (HPV) cells are detected.

HPV is a very common virus that most people will come into contact with at some time during their lives. One or more high-risk types of HPV are present in over 99.8% of cervical cancers.

HPV testing was successfully introduced in Wales in 2018 and almost nine out of 10 results show no high-risk HPV.

There are about 160 cases of cervical cancer diagnosed every year in Wales and it is the most common cancer in women under the age of 35.

But Public Health Wales has admitted it has failed to give clear information over the change, leading to concerns cancers could be missed.

In a tweet this weekend PHW said: “We are sorry. We haven’t done enough to explain the changes to cervical screening and have caused concern. We are working to make this clearer and more information will be available as soon as we can today and in the coming days.”

Cancer charities have sought to reassure women concerned by the change. Cancer Research UK has said people should be aware increasing the gap between screenings is “safe” and the new form of testing means people are invited for further based on their risk of developing cancer rather than their age.

An online petition, calling for the reintroduction of the three year gap between routine smear tests, has now attracted more than 680,000 signatures.

Alice Davies, Cancer Research UK’s health information manager, said people should be aware the decision to increase the time between screenings was made on scientific advice and due to a new way of testing samples which detects human papilloma virus (HPV) and means doctors are better able to identify those at risk of developing cervical cancer.Ms Davies said: “As the new test is more accurate at finding those at risk of cervical cancer, screening intervals can be safely extended from three to five years.

“If someone is HPV positive then their next screening interval will be shorter than five years. The new test allows women to be invited back for screening based on their risk of developing cervical cancer, rather than just their age.

“Overall this makes the programme more accurate, and means people don’t have extra rounds of screening that wouldn’t give them any benefit, while offering more screening to people at higher risk.”On Wednesday Public Health Wales said it accepted it has to do more to explain the reasons for the change.

Charity Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, described as the UK’s leading cervical cancer charity, has sought to reassure people concerned about the changes.

It has said the change has been introduced following advice from the UK National Screening Committee which recommended the five year gap between tests due to the use of HPV tests which are more sensitive and effective.

It said this means the advice is most women aged 25 to 49 can, as those aged 50 to 64 are, can be tested every five years rather than three.

The charity says the improved testing will likely mean more lives saved by identifying those at greater risk of cancer earlier.

According to Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust women in Wales, and Scotland, are invited back based on the result of the screening.

If those show high-risk HPV and cell changes you will be invited to colposcopy.

If it identified high-risk HPV but no cell changes you will be invited for cervical screening in one year.

If there is no HPV you will be invited for cervical screening in five years.

Public Health Wales says HPV testing was introduced in Wales in 2018 and almost nine out of 10 results show no high-risk HPV.

Heather Lewis, consultant in public health for Cervical Screening Wales said: “The HPV test we now use in Wales is more effective at identifying people at higher risk of developing cell changes which can cause cervical cancer.

“The evidence shows that it is therefore safe to extend the time between cervical screening tests for people who do not have HPV identified.”

HPV is a very common virus that most people will come into contact with at some time during their lives. One or more high-risk types of HPV are present in over 99.8% of cervical cancers.

Increasing the time between smear tests will also reduce risks from screening.

Head of Programme for Cervical Screening Wales at Public Health Wales, Louise Dunk said: “Testing everyone who attends for cervical screening using a test for high risk HPV will identify those at risk and prevent more cancers than just examining the cells alone.

“It is a really positive development that this more effective test will mean that women and people with a cervix, who test negative for HPV, now only need to attend their testing every five years, rather than three.”

There are around 160 cases of cervical cancer diagnosed every year in Wales and it is the most common cancer in women under the age of 35.

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Most stupid and inappropriate calls to the Welsh Ambulance Service revealed

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THE WELSH AMBULANCE SERVICE has revealed the most inappropriate calls made to 999 in the past year.

Among them was someone who had eaten a mouldy tomato and someone who had got their plaster cast wet.

One person with an earring lodged inside their ear asked for a “lift” to the Emergency Department, while another dialled 999 for a papercut.

Of the 470,653 incidents recorded by the service in the last 12 months, nearly a quarter were non-essential, including someone with diarrhoea and someone enquiring about their medication.

In the face of unprecedented demand, the ambulance service is reminding people only to call 999 in a serious or life-threatening emergency.

Chief Executive Jason Killens said: “Our ambulance service exists to help people who are seriously ill or injured, or where there is an immediate threat to their life.

“That’s people who’ve stopped breathing, people with chest pain or breathing difficulties, loss of consciousness, choking, severe allergic reactions, catastrophic bleeding or someone who is having a stroke.

“People with something stuck in their ear still have a clinical need, but calling 999 for that is ill-judged when there are so many other ways to access more appropriate help.

“Non-essential calls represent nearly a quarter of our total 999 calls, and time spent dealing with these could be time spent helping someone in a life or death situation.”

As Covid-19 tightens is grip, the Trust is asking the public to think about the many alternatives to 999.

Director of Operations Lee Brooks said: “Winter is traditionally our busiest period, and we also have a global pandemic to contend with.

“It’s easy to make fun of the people who call 999 foolishly, but actually, these people do have a legitimate clinical need – they just don’t know where to turn for it.

“We’re asking the public to educate themselves on the NHS services available in their area, of which there are many.

“The symptom checkers on the NHS 111 Wales website are a good place to start for advice and information, or you could phone 111 to speak to a nurse or health information advisor.

“Also think about your local pharmacist, dentist and optician, as well as your minor injuries unit and GP.

“Also ensure you have a well-stocked medicine cabinet for things which can be treated at home, like coughs and colds, sore throats and grazed knees.

“Every single one of us has a responsibility to use NHS services wisely and protect them for those who need them most.

“Help us to help you, and think twice before you call 999.”

Examples

The following are real 999 calls made to the Welsh Ambulance Service in the past year –

Call 1

Caller: Basically, I had a piercing a few weeks ago in my ear. Everything’s been fine but last night I woke up and the piercing had gone. I can’t find the piercing and it feels like it might be in my ear drum.

Operator: Right, OK.

Caller: Normally I would go to A&E myself but I don’t actually have any money. A lift to A&E would be amazing.

Call 2

Caller: My neighbour came here and she gave me a sandwich, cheese and tomato. Anyway, I feel quite sick now. I looked at the tomatoes and there’s mildew on them.

Operator: OK, is that why you’re requiring an ambulance?

Call 3

Caller: I was mucking about with my plaster cast and it’s coming apart. I don’t know whether to get a taxi or an ambulance.

Operator: From the information you’ve given, you require a more detailed assessment by a nurse. An ambulance will not be sent at this time.

Caller: Oh, you’re joking. Are you being serious?

Operator: We’re extremely busy at the moment.

Caller: I’ll get a taxi.

Call 4

Caller: I cut my arm, my arm’s cut.

Operator: How did you do that?

Caller: I sliced it on a piece of paper.

Operator: When did this happen?

Caller: About half an hour ago.

Operator: Is there any serious bleeding?

Caller: No.

Call 5

Operator: Tell me exactly what’s happened.

Caller: Basically, my mum drank apple vinegar but mixed it with water and lemon. Now she has diarrhoea.

Call 6

Caller: Oh, hi there. Basically, I’ve got my hand in a cast. It’s been in there for three weeks and I’ve got it wet.

Operator: OK.

Caller: It’s not an actual emergency, I just need to get to hospital.

Call 7

Caller: What it is, right, I’ve got different medication and I don’t know whether I can take these or not now.

Operator: What’s your telephone number?

Caller: I don’t want an ambulance, I just don’t know if I can take my meds or not.

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