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Omicron surge leads to changes in testing in Wales

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AS OMICRON figures significantly rise throughout the country, Eluned Morgan MS, Minister for Health and Social Services, has made changes to the PCR testing system.

Those testing positive on a Lateral Flow Test (LFT) but have no symptoms will no longer be required to get a follow-up PCR test.

All four UK nations have agreed upon changes as part of a strategy to reduce the pressures on the PCR testing system and increase access to those experiencing symptoms.

Those who are asymptomatic and have a positive LFT will be required to start their isolation immediately.

Another change announced is un-vaccinated close contacts of positive cases will now be able to replace the PCR test with LFTs on day two and eight.

In a statement, Eluned Morgan said: “Wales Covid-19 testing capacity has increased significantly in NHS Wales laboratories and as part of a UK testing programme which is the biggest in Europe with almost 400 million PCR tests carried out since the start of the pandemic.

“As the omicron wave sweeps across the country demand for PCR testing has reached unprecedented levels across the UK. This has resulted in the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) constraining bookings at times to avoid exceeding the UK programme laboratory capacity and compromising turnaround times for results.

“Since Christmas Day, daily bookings at test sites across Wales have reached up to 28,000 – a record high.

“I have agreed some immediate changes to the PCR testing system that will help reduce pressure and help increase access for those who have symptoms and need to book a test.   

“The first change will mean that people who are unvaccinated contacts of positive cases and are self-isolating for 10 days should now take a lateral flow test on day two and day eight instead of a PCR test. This will help to increase PCR testing capacity.  This change will come into effect immediately.

“Secondly, together with the other UK nations, we have agreed that if a person showing no symptoms has a positive lateral flow test they will no longer be advised to have a follow-up PCR test to confirm the result, unless they are in a clinically vulnerable group, which may need early access to treatment or have been advised to do so as part of a research or surveillance programme.

“As the prevalence of coronavirus is above 1%, the risk of false positives from lateral flow devices decreases. This means there is less value in having a follow-up PCR test to confirm the result. At higher prevalence levels, data suggests that lateral flow tests and PCRs have a similar positive predictive value.

“This change will come into effect from 6 January and we estimate it will reduce the demand for PCR tests by between 5% and 15%.

“Without a follow up PCR tests it is even more important for people to report the result of every lateral flow test they do and self-isolate as soon as they test positive. Without reporting, contact tracing will not be possible, nor will advice and support be provided by the system.

“We need everyone to continue to play their part in disrupting the transmission of Covid-19 by reporting their lateral flow test results on the gov.uk website or by calling 119.

“Positive results from lateral flow tests already flow into the Wales contact tracing system to speed up the contact and support required to help all those who need to self-isolate.

“NHS and social care staff access testing from our NHS Wales laboratories. We may need to introduce further changes to protect PCR tests for key workers through the UK testing programme if demand continues to grow in the coming days and weeks.

“We may also need to introduce other temporary emergency interventions for non-vulnerable symptomatic individuals to manage demand and safeguard capacity to find the cases most likely to result in harm.

“We recognise these changes will potentially increase demand for lateral flow tests. There are no current issues with supplies but we are aware of issues with distribution for people to access tests at some collection points including pharmacies.  UKHSA manage the logistics and deliveries across the UK and we are working closely with them to improve the situation. More than 4 million tests were distributed to workplaces, people’s homes and collection points in Wales last week.”

Commenting, Welsh Conservative and Shadow Health Minister Russell George MS said: “This change is welcome on two fronts: firstly, it will preserve an increasingly precious supply of PCR tests and, secondly, preserves consistency across the United Kingdom.

“Of course, testing itself merely identifies carriers of the virus but won’t beat it. We can only do that through vaccinations and everyone who is eligible should be taking up their booster jab at the earliest opportunity.

“Soon, we will be able to live with the virus rather than just talk about returning to the freedom that is the birth-right of all Brits.”

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Health

Bereavement books to support children at Bronglais Hospital

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THANKS to donations, Hywel Dda Health Charities has purchased a collection of children’s books on bereavement for the Meurig oncology ward at Bronglais Hospital.

The books help families to support children when there has been a terminal cancer diagnosis.

Ellen Masters, Meurig Ward Administrator, said: “By having these books on the ward we are able to guide and support children and young people dealing with bad news and bereavement.

“Using stories and activities can be a really good way to discuss issues with a child who has been bereaved, helping them to explore feelings and emotions around loss.

“Parents also appreciate having something they can read to children which deals sensitively with the issues.”

Pictured with some of the books is Senior Ward Sister Alaw Ciornei.

Nicola Llewelyn, Head of Hywel Dda Health Charities, the official charity of Hywel Dda University Health Board, said: “The support of our local communities enables us to provide services over and above what the NHS can provide in the three counties of Hywel Dda and we are extremely grateful for every donation we receive.”

For more details about the charity and how you can help support local NHS patients and staff, go to www.hywelddahealthcharities.org.uk

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Health

NHS Dental Treatment in Wales Still 55% Lower Than Pre-Pandemic Levels

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RESPONDING to figures released this week showing that the number of courses of NHS dental treatment are still 55.1% lower than the year prior to the pandemic, the Welsh Liberal Democrats have reiterated their calls for the use of dental hygienists and dental nurses to be increased to help clear backlogs.

Overall, there was a decrease of 35.5% (539,959 patients) in the total number of patients treated, and the percentage of the total population treated decreased by 17.0 percentage points. This is the largest decrease for both adults and children since the series began in the 24-month period ending March 2006.

The figures also show a worrying decline in the number of children treated decreased with a reduction of 33.6% (125,246 patients).

Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds MS told The Ceredigion Herald: “The figures we see today are very concerning. An inability to access an NHS dentist continues to be one of the main concerns I hear from my constituents.

“Just over the course of this summer, the largest town in Powys lost two out of four of its dental practices and the picture is similar across much of Wales.

“Everyone understands the challenges faced by dentistry following the pandemic. However, there are actions the Welsh Government can take both in the here and now and in the longer term to help clear backlogs and get NHS dentistry back on track.

“When I’ve spoken to industry experts over the summer they have all said the same thing, increasing the number of dental nurses and dental hygienists, as well as broadening the work they are allowed to do will help clear backlogs.

“I will continue to press Labour to make these changes as soon as possible.”

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Health

Local Businesses help raise astonishing £10,000 for Cardio-Respiratory Ward at Bronglais Hospital

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THE ORGANISERS of the 2021 Aberystwyth Businesspersons’ Lunch have donated the £10,000 proceeds to the Cardio-Respiratory Ward at Bronglais Hospital.

Consultant Cardiologist Dr Donogh McKeogh; Aled and Rose Rowlands;

John Davies’ widow Ann; Frank Bridle; John’s daughter and son, Angharad

and Rhodri; and Iestyn Leyshon

The lunch last December was in memory of well-known local businessman, jeweller and musician John Davies, who had helped organise the annual lunch for many years but sadly passed away just a few months before.

“John was such a lovely man, a pillar of the town and so well thought of, that we decided it was fitting that the lunch should be in his memory and that the proceeds should go to the cardiac unit where he had been treated for so many years,” said Aled Rowlands, who organised the lunch along with Frank Bridle, Layla Mangan, Gary Pemberthy, Huw Bates and Iestyn Leyshon.

“It was a very successful day, with nearly 200 people enjoying a lunch, comedian, band, auction and raffle. It was a fitting tribute to John who was such a big part of the town.”

John Davies joined his parents’ business at T J Davies at the age of 16 where he worked for 64 years after leaving Llandaff Cathedral School. He passed away in August 2021, at the age of 80.

John’s wife Ann and children Angharad and Rhodri said: “We were delighted at the generous amount that was raised in his memory at the Businesspersons Christmas lunch.

“Charity work was important to John, through his membership of the Lions Club and it is fitting that the money raised went to a department where he personally received such care and attention from Dr McKeogh and his team.

“John will be remembered not only as a businessman but also as a keen and talented trumpeter, playing with Aberystwyth Town Band, Aber Jazz and Philomusica, to name but a few, as well as playing carols with the Town Band every Christmas Day around Bronglais Hospital wards and care homes in the town.”

Pictured at the cheque presentation at Bronglais Hospital are (from left) Consultant Cardiologist Dr Donogh McKeogh; Aled and Rose Rowlands; John Davies’ widow Ann; Frank Bridle; John’s daughter and son, Angharad and Rhodri; and Iestyn Leyshon.

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