Challenges this winter will be “truly extraordinary” says Health Minister
The challenges this winter will be “truly extraordinary” and the “next days and weeks will determine whether we need to introduce even more significant measures to control the virus.”
That was the stark warning health minister Vaughan Gething gave to members of the Senedd this afternoon as he unveiled the winter plan for NHS Wales.
He said that despite the “huge efforts of the majority of people” some areas are experiencing much higher numbers of cases that are likely to result in “vulnerable people being admitted to hospital in the coming weeks.”
“So, let me be absolutely clear: if we are to avoid further local or national lockdowns, our behaviour must change and change quickly.” the health minister said.
“We are in a similar position now to early February this year—a matter of weeks ahead of the national lockdown choice made in March by each UK nation.” He added
The Winter Protection Plan sets out how services will deal with the added challenge of COVID-19 to what is already a very busy time for health and social care.
Based on learning from the first wave, 5000 beds are available to ensure health boards are able to manage future waves of COVID-19 and any potential spike in emergency admissions.
The plan states that “this has been achieved by retaining a range of field hospitals, new hospital facilities and additional bed capacity created in existing hospital sites.”
Mr Gething said: “The reduction over the summer made some people relax and become complacent about the continuing threat.
There has also been a minority of people that have deliberately not followed the rules and may have thought that COVID-19 had gone away. It has not and cases are rising.”
He said: “We all know that winter is always a challenging time of the year for our health and social services. Let me be clear, the challenges this winter will be even greater, given the need to respond to the coronavirus outbreak and the resurgence of the virus over recent weeks.”
The minister said: “We must be prepared for the worst and the Winter Protection Plan sets out actions that are being taken in readiness across the health and social services. The plan highlights a number of now familiar areas, but also ones that are crucial to controlling the virus. ”
The plan is supported by the £800m NHS stabilisation package that was announced recently along with the additional funding being provided to Local Authorities and the care sector.
In addition to extra funding for schemes to reduce pressure on emergency departments, there are additional actions this year on stopping the spread of coronavirus and ensuring the NHS has enough capacity to deal with an increases in cases.
Increasing bed capacity, increased testing capacity, new ways of delivering services, use of technology and an expanded flu vaccination programme are all key elements in protecting the public from coronavirus.
The minister added: “We can do all we can to ensure our frontline health and social care services are prepared for the winter but we also need the co-operation of the public to stop the spread of the virus and protect our most vulnerable.”
“Health and social care staff, as well as other key workers, work tirelessly to provide services and care for us. We in turn must all do our bit to fight the virus and to ‘Keep Wales Safe’, whether that be adhering to the rules, maintaining social distancing or practicing good hand hygiene.”
“People can also help reduce pressure on services this winter by thinking about where they can get treatment.
Pharmacies, NHS Direct, opticians, dentists, Minor Injury Units, health visitors, community nurses, midwives and GP practices, can all provide advice and treatment when looking after yourself at home isn’t enough.”
Plans outlining what will happen with the network of 17 temporary field hospitals which were created rapidly to increase bed capacity across Wales at the start of the pandemic.
Only one, the 1,500-bed capacity Dragon’s Heart Hospital – built within the Principality Stadium in Cardiff – has received any patients, it is in the process of being decommissioned.
A new facility, providing 400 extra beds, will be built next to the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff.
The temporary 430-bed hospital built within Deeside Leisure Centre at the cost of over £13m has remained unused during the pandemic, it remains on standby.
The Deeside site is one of three so-called Rainbow Hospital’s in the North Wales health board region, the other two are in Bangor and Llandudno.
Mr Gething said: “The winter protection plan is not a panacea, and it will take time for us all to recover from this pandemic.
However, the plan demonstrates our continued commitment to the people of Wales throughout this exceptional public health emergency.”
“Making the right choice not only helps you get the right care quickly but it also helps save the time of NHS staff, who will be working harder than ever this winter.
For serious and life-threatening emergencies call 999 or go to A&E. But if not, remember the other places where you can get advice and treatment.”
The Winter Protection Plan can be viewed here.
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