FIRST MINISTER Mark Drakeford last night set out Wales’ aim to offer all eligible adults an appointment for a booster vaccine by the end of December.
Urgent plans are being put in place to further accelerate the booster programme as new evidence has emerged showing two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine are not enough to offer protection against the new omicron variant.
But the booster dose is vital in improving protection against the fast-moving variant.
In a televised message to Wales, the First Minister said: “We must be prepared for omicron cases to rise quickly and very steeply – just as they have in other parts of the UK.
“We are still learning about this new form of coronavirus. All the information we have tells us we are facing a very serious situation. By the end of the month, omicron will have become the dominant form of the virus in Wales, bringing a new wave of infections and illness.
“This could then translate into a large number of people needing hospital treatment just at a time when the NHS is already under significant pressure. The Welsh Government will do everything we can to protect people’s health and keep Wales safe.
“New evidence has emerged about the effectiveness of our vaccines against omicron. Two doses of the vaccine is simply not enough to give the level of protection against the infection we all need. We have already increased the speed of the roll-out of our booster programme. New clinics have been opened and operating hours extended. Urgent efforts are now underway to accelerate the programme even further so we can offer all eligible adults an appointment by the end of this year if possible.
“Please make getting a booster a priority, as it is the single of the most important things you can do to protect yourself against coronavirus and this new variant.”
The First Minister added: “None of us wanted to hear the news of a new omicron variant. After almost two long years of the pandemic, we had all hoped that we could put coronavirus behind us this Christmas. Unfortunately, we are once again facing a serious and worsening situation. But, we have faced challenges many times during this pandemic.
“We can once again pull together to look out for each other – for friends, family and neighbours – to protect each other and keep ourselves safe and well. We have already taken some steps to increase protections in Wales and we may need to take some further steps to keep Wales safe.”
Commenting, Welsh Conservative and Shadow Health Minister Russell George MS said: “Whilst it is encouraging that all indications show Omicron is a milder form of the virus, it is more transmissible and it’s clear booster jabs are a vital defence against the variant. Therefore, it is essential that government infrastructure is geared up to deliver boosters on a war-like scale.
“The system clearly needs to be modernised to introduce more dynamism and flexibility like online booking systems, especially considering the numerous questions over how normalised regular jabs are going to become.
“After heeding our calls for walk-in centres and reactivation of the volunteer army, Labour’s Health Minister should now extend the hours during which people are vaccinated, making greater use of community pharmacists, reopening mass vaccination centres, and prioritising boosters over jabs for teenagers.
“We do not need more restrictions if a critical mass of people get their jabs. There is a duty on all those eligible to get their vaccination and the Labour Government has a responsibility to deliver the rollout rapidly. A free society and an open economy depend on it.”
The Welsh Liberal Democrats welcomed the accelerated vaccine booster targets but have also called for greater support to be provided to the hospitality industry over the winter.
Commenting Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds MS stated: “I welcome the Welsh Government’s new target to offer every adult a booster vaccine by the end of December, vaccinations remain the best way out of this crisis.
“However, we would also like to see more financial support offered to hospitality firms being hit by reduced footfall due to concerns over Omicron. Despite no lockdown being in place pubs and restaurants are concerned about a drop off in trade during what is usually their busiest time of year, following fresh work-from-home guidance.
“Firms have already paid for stock for the Christmas period in the wake of supply chain disruptions. Much of this can’t be stored for the future, and even the small proportion that can will cause immediate cash flow disruption in already struggling businesses.”
GMB Union said it encourages everyone to get their booster – but says frontline workers need a pay boost too.
Rehana Azam, GMB National Secretary, said: “There has been no respite for our frontline workers throughout the covid pandemic.
“They’ve put themselves in harm’s way to serve the public – particularly when governments and employers failed to ensure the provision of proper PPE and testing to keep them safe at work.
“GMB members know the importance of keeping safe and well, that’s why we’re encouraging everyone across the four nations to get their booster.
“But as governments, yet again, ask our NHS, social care and key frontline workers to undertake another huge national effort, they are still not paying these workers properly.
“Against the backdrop of covid, there is a cost-of-living crisis, key services face an understaffing crisis and the people delivering them are enduring a wage crisis.
“That’s not good enough and it’s got to be confronted.
“Our key workers must be paid properly – it’s the least they deserve for everything they are doing for all of us.”
Possible super-hospital plans released as Pembrokeshire site ruled out
HYWEL Dda Health Board have reduced the number of potential sites for the new “super-hospital” in West Wales from five to three.
The new site has been narrowed down to two possible locations in Whitland or one in St Clears.
According to the plans provided in Hywel Dda’s technical appraisal reports, all sites will include a main building divided into planned and urgent care, as well as a separate facility for mental health services. Parking, administrative facilities, and a helipad are also planned.
The potential Narberth site is no longer being considered, meaning that the new hospital would be built outside of Pembrokeshire.
Hywel Dda presented the findings of a “transport infrastructure analysis,” stating that both sites had bus services that are “infrequent” and “short,” making shift work difficult.
For Whitland, it noted that there was an approximate 750m walking distance from the train station to the hospital site, with recommended walking distance of 400m, and that local roads do ‘not appear’ to suffer from significant congestion during a typical weekday.
In St Clears, the report highlighted the impact a planned new railway station – expected to open in 2024 – could have on the town, saying it would be a ‘major boost’ to the area providing viable alternative car travel, with it being understood there is a commitment to increase the frequency of services at some stations along the west Wales line from two hourly to hourly.
After it was announced that Narberth would not be the site of the new hospital, Hywel Dda University Health Board Chair, Maria Battle, assured the residents of Pembrokeshire that their concerns would be taken into account.
“Our programme business case to the Welsh Government is seeking the greatest investment west Wales will have ever seen,” said Ms Battle.
“We have listened to and continue to listen to the fears and voices of the public we serve and our staff who understand the frontline challenges of trying to deliver services across so many sites and spread so thinly.
“Recognising the fragility of our services and the risk this poses every day, we do not intend to make changes at Glangwili or Withybush hospitals before a new hospital is built. And afterwards, they will continue to provide valuable health services to our communities.”
Give blood and help save lives in Ceredigion
LOCAL residents are being called upon to help patients in need by giving blood with the Welsh Blood Service.
Donations are still needed daily by hospitals to treat patients with a range of conditions, including mothers and babies during childbirth; cancer patients receiving chemotherapy as part of their treatment; and by patients involved in emergencies.
The Welsh Blood Service has also experienced a sustained period of high demand from hospitals as they continue to reintroduce services such as routine operations that require blood products. This increase means more blood donors are needed to help meet these additional needs.
One donation has multiple uses as it can be split into three products: red cells, platelets and fresh-frozen plasma, meaning one donation can save or improve up to three adults or six babies’ lives.
Across Ceredigion, over 200 donations of blood and blood products are needed each month to provide care to patients at Bronglais General Hospital.
Appointments are available at four locations in Ceredigion – Teifi Leisure Centre Sports Hall Cardigan, Newcastle Emlyn Rugby Club, Aberaeron Memorial Hall and Ysgol Bro Teifi, Llandysul.
Alan Prosser, Welsh Blood Service Director, said: “Every day around 350 donations are needed to help the 20 hospitals in Wales we supply, including Bronglais.
“We’ve always had great support from our donors in the area but we’re urging more residents to consider becoming blood donors and supporting patients in need. We’ve managed to increase our capacity in the area and we’re hoping this will help make it easier for people to donate.
“We are particularly calling on existing O negative, O positive and A positive donors to come forward but if you are a new donor and don’t know your blood type don’t worry, please sign up and we’ll do that bit for you.
“Last month, 304 potentially life saving donations were made in Ceredigion.
“As a Service, we rely on the generosity of people living in Wales to provide vital donations to patients.
“By giving up just one hour of your time, you have a unique opportunity to make a difference to people in your community and beyond.
Additional safety measures are in place at all our donation sessions, all staff wear face masks and every item is cleaned between use.
Alan continued: “If you’ve never donated before, why not try something incredible this week – sign up to donate at one of the sessions in your local area and become a lifesaver.”
Book a lifesaving donation at: welshblood.org.uk or call 0800 252 266 today.
Werndale Hospital recognised for outstanding patient care in national award
STAFF at Werndale Hospital near Carmarthen have been recognised for the quality of their patient care.
The prestigious ‘Private Hospital Group of the Year’ award is presented to an organisation that has shown excellence in its delivery of care, commitment to the community and innovation within healthcare.
Werndale Hospital was also recognised for their initiatives to support staff in their career progression and wellbeing.
The latest statistics show, 98% of patients at Werndale Hospital were satisfied with their overall level of care, 98% of patients would recommend their care to family and friends, and 98% of patients rated the nursing staff as excellent or very good.
In addition, independent analysis of Circle hospitals’ hip and knee procedure outcomes of health improvement shows that Circle scored 8.4 versus an independent sector average of 7.8 in the hip category, and a score of 15.4 versus an independent sector average of 13.9 in the knee category.
The award presented to Circle Health Group, owners of Werndale Hospital, in London in June, also noted the extraordinary contribution the teams at the hospital had made to the community.
In 2021 alone, Werndale Hospital partnered with Air Ambulance Wales and raised £1,205 to support the charity’s work in the community.
In addition to the charitable work, Werndale Hospital was recognised for it’s commitment to support staff through a series of wellbeing initiatives and career development opportunities. The judges were particularly impressed with the launch of the ‘Be Heard’ survey at the hospital.
The survey looks to empower staff to feedback on everything from the working environment at the hospital through to their own career ambitions. Building directly on the feedback from this survey, the ‘Grow Your Own’ campaign was launched which supported staff to work towards specific qualifications from nursing degrees with partnered universities through to bespoke management programmes and MBA qualifications.
As a direct result of this support for staff at what is a challenging time for healthcare workers, Werndale Hospital and Circle Heath Group were recognised as being a Top 20 Best Large Company to work for.
At the heart of Werndale Hospital’s approach to treating patients is a commitment to the community they serve.
Paolo Pieri, CEO of Circle Health Group, said: “The award is a testament to what an amazing year 2021 was for Werndale Hospital with considerable investment into the facilities and services on offer to patients in west Wales. I couldn’t be prouder of what our staff and doctors have achieved.”
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