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Statement by the Minister for Health and Social Services: Coronavirus (COVID-19)

 
Minister for Health and Social Services
Member

I am going to give Members an update on a range of issues related to our coronavirus response, from across the health and social care system.89

We continue to maintain supply of personal protective equipment to our front-line health and social care workers. We're working on a Wales and UK basis to secure more robust supply arrangements going forward. As you've heard earlier from the First Minister, as of last week, we had issued more than 16.2 million items of PPE to the NHS and local authorities, for distribution in social care, from our pandemic NHS stores. That pandemic stock is part of the 48.3 million items of PPE we have issued in Wales since 9 March. Supplies have been distributed to hospitals, general practice, the Welsh Ambulance Service, pharmacies, and all local authorities, for onwards transmission into social care.90

And I do want to recognise the significant work that has been undertaken to establish new structures to deliver PPE from our national supplies to our vital services, including our independent sector providers in social care. I’d like to extend my genuine thanks to all involved—our health and local authority partners, social care providers, and local resilience forum coordinators.91

In any operation of this scale, there will be times where things don’t work exactly as we would like. And I am acutely conscious of the stress and anxiety felt by our front-line staff; they want to know that they are sure that vital equipment will be available when they need it. And trade unions have been key in identifying those issues in real time at workplace level, for employers to respond quickly to shortages, which enables us to improve and refine the process, and what that means to allow our staff to do their work in caring for the public.92

The worldwide demand for PPE is creating an insecure and unpredictable market. As we know, some countries have taken the decision to stop the export of PPE supplies, and other supply routes have experienced significant delays. And the recent very public example of the delay of an order for the UK from Turkey is perhaps the most obvious and most public example of that.93

We are though taking a multi-faceted approach here in Wales to ensure that we do manage to provide our ongoing supply of PPE in Wales. And that includes: working with other home nations across the UK to pool and share our procurement efforts to bring in vital new stocks; our usual Welsh arrangements; the procurement of additional PPE supplies94

the procurement of additional PPE supplies using the National Procurement Service, and our work with Welsh businesses to produce PPE in Wales.95

In addition to working jointly with Northern Ireland, Scotland and England, we are actively mobilising industry in Wales to supplement back to those UK-wide supply routes through innovation and new manufacturing.96

As you know, the First Minister recently called on Welsh businesses and manufacturers to help produce a Welsh supply of PPE to support our front-line health and social care staff. The Life Sciences Hub Wales is working with Welsh industry to develop, refine and deliver those ideas. And our approach intends to maximise all the opportunities that are available to us to recognise the scale of demand and the very challenging global market that we are operating and competing within. 97

We have, though, had a tremendous response from Welsh companies so far. In North Wales, we have Brodwaith on Anglesey, who are making 2,000 scrubs a months. We also have Worksafe Workwear in Ruthin, who are producing over 2,000 scrubs a month.  One of those companies used to make pyjamas and the other used to make bags. They are good examples of how companies have adapted their processes in a matter of weeks to produce the equipment that we need—in this case, scrubs. 98

We also have high-profile examples of the Royal Mint and the Rototherm Group, who are making face visors and shields that are being worn by healthcare staff. And the gin distillery, In The Welsh Wind, is making WHO-approved hand sanitiser. And I really have been struck by the level of innovation and support that has come from all parts of Wales.99

The demand for PPE will continue to be well above normal for the foreseeable future. The actions that we're taking in Wales are all directed at ensuring the continued supply of PPE to our staff who need it to continue to work and to care for the public safely. It is of course important that the guidelines on PPE are followed properly and that PPE, of course, is used in accordance with that guidance by the staff who need it.100

On testing, I know there have been comments following the First Minister's statement and questions, on 15 April, I commissioned a rapid review that focused on the key elements of our plan for testing critical workers. That included our testing capacity, access to testing, and the testing referral and results process. Following the review, I can confirm that our current testing capacity is now 1,800 tests a day. I have made £50 million of Welsh Government funding available to bring in further equipment, chemical reagents and other activity to increase our testing capacity. We do now have mass drive-in testing centres in operation in Cardiff and Newport and new testing infrastructure is planned for north and south west Wales to be in place shortly—within the next fortnight, as I understand it today—to boost the existing testing arrangements already in place.101

We're piloting a web-based booking platform this week, and I've removed the ceiling on referrals per local authority, and I've also published a new critical worker policy that extends the number of groups that can now be tested. We're now testing all symptomatic care home residents and all care home residents who are returning from hospital. All symptomatic care home workers themselves can now also be referred for testing.
 
I remain confident, upon discussion with our chief scientific adviser on health that our plan sets out the right approach to ensure we are delivering the right testing, when and where it is needed, both in the short and the longer term. So, I'm confident at this point in time that we're testing the right people.102

On a different subject, I do understand that it's important that we recognise and then try to understand why, across the UK, we're seeing a disproportionate number of people from black, asian and minority ethnic community backgrounds who have become critically ill as a result of Covid-19.103

Yesterday, I confirmed that we in Wales would be contributing to the review that is being led by Public Health England to explore the role of pre-existing medical conditions. Welsh Government officials will mobilise efforts to establish whether there are any identifiable factors that could help to inform decisions on whether we need to give different public advice regarding comorbidities, isolation, shielding and personal protective equipment in relation to people from black, asian and minority ethnic community backgrounds. We will be working with representatives from our black, asian and minority ethnic communities here in Wales to help us shape this work going forward.104

to help us shape this work going forward.105

Now, on children’s social care and safeguarding, I know there are major concerns, not just for the Welsh Government, but for other key stakeholders. We understand that services are under pressure, and, at the same time, we know that the emergency is placing a great strain on all those involved in the lives of vulnerable children. To support local authority social services departments and partners in addressing those challenges, I'm pleased to confirm that the Welsh Government has now published operational guidance for children’s social services. That's been developed through close working with stakeholders and it sets out measures that should be put in place to minimise the impact of the pandemic; to help local authorities and their partners to continue to provide effective support to vulnerable, at risk and care-experienced children, whilst maintaining their statutory duties.106

Safeguarding remains everyone’s responsibility. I am concerned about the reduction in referrals and reports of concern for adults and children at risk of harm, abuse or neglect during the coronavirus outbreak. So, I want to remind everyone that social services departments are operating as normal and are able to respond to concerns that people have. So, if you feel that anyone, whether an adult or a child, may be at risk of abuse, harm or neglect, you can report that by dialling 101 or contacting the local authority social services department. Help is available through the Live Fear Free helpline for anyone who has concerns regarding anyone who may be experiencing domestic abuse or sexual violence.107

And, finally, I ask the public not to be complacent. We've significantly increased NHS capacity and taken extraordinary steps to change the way that we live our lives. That has undoubtedly stopped a much wider and more aggressive spread of coronavirus here in Wales. The action that we are all taking is saving lives. There is, however, much more for us all to do for some time to come.