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Police stay tight-lipped about hospital runs

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DyfedPowysPoliceDYFED POWYS POLICE force has declined to provide information to The Herald about its use of police cars as make-shift ambulances as they have deemed it too time consuming and not worth their effort. 

According to figures released by Plaid Cymru, who made Freedom of Information requests to each Welsh police force, more than 600 patients in Wales had to be taken to hospitals by police cars rather than ambulances over the last three years. The Welsh Ambulance Service said it was missing its eight-minute target and crews were “tied up” and unable to respond to other calls. Police dealt with a wide range of patients, including those who had attempted suicide, been involved in assaults or stabbings, suffered drink-related injuries or had hypothermia. While 600 is the figure from South Wales Police, North Wales Police and Gwent Police, Wales’ largest force Dyfed Powys did not provide any figures.

The Herald asked the Force: “On how many occasions in each of the financial years 2011-12, 2012- 13 and 2013-14 have the force been asked to take patients to hospital in police vehicles because of a lack of availability of ambulances to carry out the task?” The response that came back that an exemption to providing this information, freely available apparently under the Freedom of Information, applied and told us it would take a staggering 9635 hours – over a year of man hours to provide the Herald with the basic information given freely by other Welsh police forces.

While the Welsh Government claims that the figures cited represent less than 0.05% of all calls made to the Ambulance Service, the situation has been pounced upon as evidence of the growing crisis in the Welsh Ambulance Service at a time when Health Board service reorganisations are increasing the burden placed upon the grossly under-performing service. Mike Collins, director of service delivery at the ambulance service, said the organisation was working as hard as it could take patients to hospital as quickly as possible. “The trust is working in partnership with police forces across Wales to reduce instances where our emergency colleagues are awaiting an ambulance response,” he added. “Both the trust and all four police forces maintain frequent contact and are building on the close relationship in support of each other and their staff.

“Despite the increase in calls that we experience year on year we are actually reaching more and more people across Wales than ever before.” The crisis in Ambulance provision was highlighted by performance figures released in June which showed a catastrophic failure by the Welsh Ambulance Trust to meet minimum performance levels set by the Welsh Government. The figures show that 50.8% of ambulances in Pembrokeshire arrived at the scene of an immediate life-threatening Category A call within 8 minutes. The target is 65%. Neighbouring counties of Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire achieved better figures of 53.3% and 51.9% respectively, and the average for the whole of Wales was 54.1%.

The death of three years-old Angel Jade Smith of Carmarthen shows the depth of the challenge facing those seeking to improve first responder times. Having been recovered from a serious house fire, Angel received treatment for twenty minutes at the scene and had been transported to Glangwili Hospital by police officers before an ambulance arrived, forty minutes after being called. Carmarthen Ambulance station is only seven minutes from the family’s home. The Ambulance Service announced an enquiry into the matter, but a search of their website for further information on the incident drew a blank.

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Elin Jones backs calls for business rates holiday extension for independent businesses

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CEREDIGION’S Member of the Senedd, Elin Jones, has backed calls by the British Independent Retail Association for the extension of the current rates holiday for non-essential businesses in 2021/22.

Many local independent businesses have been closed for the best part of a year, and many will be in a more precarious situation now than when the initial rates holiday was announced last year. Many businesses will be looking forward to the easing of restrictions over the next few months, but Elin Jones warned that many would benefit from the continued business rates holiday.

Elin Jones said:

“Every effort must be made to secure the future of independent businesses in Ceredigion. They are such an important feature of life in Ceredigion, both as employers, and as a draw for people to our towns and villages.

“Normal trading will eventually resume, and these businesses will be able to flourish again, but local businesses owners know that this cannot be rushed. Therefore we must continue to sustain our businesses until they are once again back on an even keel.

“It will take a while for footfall to resume, and extending the business rates holiday is one way to help in this time of need.”

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MP makes Budget case for support for self-employed and small businesses in Ceredigion

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BEN LAKE MP has called on Chancellor Rishi Sunak to extend the government’s financial support package for businesses and self-employed workers in next week’s Budget as many struggle to stay afloat during continued lockdown restrictions. 

The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak is to set out the UK Government’s budget on Wednesday 3 March, almost a year since the last Budget on 11 March 2020. 

To help businesses and our local high streets over coming months, the Ceredigion MP has called on the Chancellor to extend the lowered rate of VAT at 5% for hospitality and tourism for a year to March 2022 and to extend the business rates relief package. 

Mr Lake also called on the Chancellor to retain the furlough scheme for the duration of pandemic restrictions, as recent figures show more than 178,000* in Wales are still receiving government help from the CJRS. He also urged the Chancellor to expand the existing eligibility criteria for the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme in order to offer some help to the many individuals who have not received a penny in Government support thus far. 

Ben Lake MP said: “For many businesses and self-employed workers, the financial support government has offered over the last 12 months has been a lifeline. Now, as we are finally starting to see light at the end of the lockdown tunnel, we cannot remove this lifeline prematurely. Extending this help for a little longer, and expanding the criteria to help those that have been excluded thus far, would offer small businesses the support they require to ‘bounce back’ from the pandemic.” 

Many businesses who are still not open due to lockdown measures are also now expected to start repaying their Bounce Back Loans. This is despite their situation largely remaining unchanged since they took out the loan, or in some unfortunate instances, worsened as they have not yet been able to trade.  

UKHospitality has estimated that the hospitality sector lost around £72 billion in sales in 2020 and faces, frankly, a debt mountain, including £4.2 billion in state-backed loans.  

Mr Lake said:  “It is important that businesses that took out bounce back loans and CBILS are required to pay only when they are in a position to do so – once they have ‘bounced back’ from the pandemic. Affording such a level of flexibility, and thus preventing avoidable business failures, would protect jobs, the taxpayer’s investment in the recovery, and the integrity of our financial system.

“We remain in the early stages of a vaccine-led recovery, and it is likely that we will have some form of restrictions for many months to come. Having done so much to protect the economy and the workforce, we must not withdraw support prematurely, as to do so would risk throwing away the investment taxpayers have made in the last year, and potentially our economic recovery.” 

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Covid-19 vaccination venues and timeline announced for everyone locally over 50

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EVERY person in JCVI priority groups 5 to 9 will be offered a COVID-19 vaccination by 18 April, Hywel Dda University Health Board has confirmed.

While the health board’s vaccination programme has the capacity to offer a vaccine to everyone in groups 5 to 9 by the original target date of 4 April, the delivery plan has had to be adjusted based on confirmed vaccine deliveries.

Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, and Pembrokeshire residents in priority groups 5 to 9 can expect to receive their vaccine as follows:

  • Group 5, people aged 65 – 69 years – delivered by GP practices between 15 February and 12 March
  • Group 6, people aged 16 years to 64 years with underlying health conditions and unpaid carers – delivered by GP practices between 22 February and 4 April
  • Group 7, people aged 60 – 64 years – delivered by mass vaccination centres starting 8 March
  • Group 8, people aged 55 – 59 years – delivered by mass vaccination centres starting 22 March
  • Group 9, people aged 50 – 54 years – delivered by mass vaccination centres starting 5 April

The health board currently has mass vaccination centres located in Aberystwyth, Cardigan, Haverfordwest, Tenby, Carmarthen and Llanelli.

Group 6 is significantly the largest cohort to be vaccinated to date and we understand that many in this group will be anxious to receive a vaccine. Please do not contact your GP or the health board to ask about your appointment, you will be contacted directly when it is your turn and we thank you for your patience.

People in groups 7, 8 and 9 will receive a letter with an appointment date and time. Please arrive as close to your appointment time as possible. The letter will include a phone number to contact the health board should you need to rearrange or cancel your appointment but please make every effort to keep your allocated appointment time.

Steve Moore, Chief Executive of Hywel Dda UHB, said: “While  our programme has had to slow  due to supplies, we want to reassure everyone in groups 5 to 9 that our amazing teams of vaccinators and GP practices have the capability and flexibility to deliver our vaccine supplies as they arrive into the region.

“Vaccine supplies will start to increase again from mid-March, and we are confident that everyone living in our three counties in the top 9 priority groups will be offered a vaccine by mid-April.

“In Hywel Dda we have an older population compared to some other health boards and so over 50% of our adult population will have been offered a vaccine by milestone 2.

“To be able to say that as we approach the anniversary of the first national lockdown is nothing short of extraordinary.

“And again, I must say thank you to everyone living in our three counties who continue to come forward in substantial numbers for the vaccine. Uptake remains remarkably high and we hope to see this continue through groups 5 to 9 and into group 10.”

People are asked, wherever possible, to use their own private transport to attend an appointment. Lifts can be accepted from someone in their household or support bubble, but not from anyone else due to the risk of transmission of the virus.

The health board has put in place transport support for anyone who may have difficulty attending their vaccination appointment. If you have no other means of travel, please contact the health board on 0300 303 8322 and we will be happy to assist.

Everyone in priority groups 1 to 4 should have received an offer of a vaccination. If you have not been contacted, or have changed your mind, please contact your GP at the earliest opportunity. No one will be left behind.

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