Posted: Thu 30th Apr 2020

Health Minister comes under fire from North Wales care home leader after refusing to extend coronavirus testing to all staff and residents

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Thursday, Apr 30th, 2020

The Welsh Health Minister has come under fire after refusing to extend coronavirus testing to all care home staff and residents.

Vaughan Gething said the Welsh Government’s current policy of only testing those who display symptoms of COVID-19 was still the most appropriate during an interview on BBC Radio Wales this morning.

It comes despite UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock announcing all people in care homes will be able to access tests from Wednesday, regardless of whether they have symptoms.

At the start of the the Radio Wales Breakfast programme, a North Wales care leader repeated his recent claim that homes are being seen as “collateral damage”.

Mario Kreft, proprietor of the Pendine Park care organisation, also described the 184 deaths involving the virus in care homes in the country as “absolutely tragic”.

When asked what he would like to say to Mr Gething, the chair of Care Forum Wales said: “My message would be why have we waited so long? We have been talking about this from the beginning of February – this is not new.

“We saw this coming out of Asia and we saw then as February proceeded what happened in Italy and Spain as we moved into March.

“Public Health Wales has not engaged with the care sector in the way they should have done.

“We should have been in meetings with Public Health Wales in January and February. We should have been bringing our expertise and our concerns, not just to complain about what we might do, but actually to help people with the solutions.

“If you get ahead of this with testing, there is a great deal you can do and a lot of lives that you can save.

“You simply can’t have vulnerable people in cohorts because they are very sick and introduce the virus into those places through less than robust systems.”

Mr Kreft also raised his concerns over the lack of Personal Protective Equipment available to care homes.

But Mr Gething gave a flat out “no” when quizzed later on in this morning’s programme over whether the government would change its position on testing to follow England’s lead.

He said he had received “pretty clear advice” from the chief scientific advisor and chief medical officer that testing everyone in the care sector was not the best use of resources.

The minister also took aim at Mr Kreft for the tone of his remarks.

He said: “I heard some of Mario’s language earlier on in one of the clips and I understand that he’s passionate, I understand that there’s a large amount of upset because of the very real challenges they’re facing, as indeed are other parts of our public services.

“But I don’t think the reference to collateral damage is particularly helpful and it certainly isn’t accurate in the way that we have made choices within the government or indeed the way that all parts of our health service and local government have behaved.

“It’s just not the way that we’re dealing with the care home sector. In fact, on Monday this week Care Forum Wales were part of a ministerial meeting that I chaired on where we are with testing and to improve the system we have.

“I think the danger is the way that Mario spoke about Public Health Wales, as that’s unlikely to bring people together to have a conversation about what needs to change, and to improve.

“Once you get into get into name calling then I’m afraid that frays human relationships in a way we all understand.”

Mr Gething’s comments were made exactly a week after he accidentally broadcast a sweary rant about one of his colleagues during a virtual session of Welsh assembly.

He has come under pressure over the response to the pandemic in Wales on a number of occasions in recent weeks, including following the failure by some health boards to report COVID-19 death figures accurately.

Following the interview, his stance on testing in care homes has been described as both “offensive” and “shocking” by his opponents.

Plaid Cymru local government spokesperson Delyth Jewell AM said: “It is frankly offensive that the Health Minister has said that protecting care home residents and staff is not the best use of resources, when residents are dying every day.

“Data released by the Office of National Statistics yesterday showed that deaths from coronavirus occurring in care homes were much higher than initially thought, and there’s an unexpected increase in deaths not attributed to COVI-19 in some health boards which requires an explanation.”

Janet Finch-Saunders, Shadow Social Minister for the Welsh Conservatives has also attacked his position.

She said: “This is absolutely staggering. We don’t know the prevalence of infection in care homes and the proportion of residents affected, nor the issue of staff working in close quarters to people who are potentially highly infectious.

“It’s absolutely vital that we determine the true risk to residents and staff of our care homes. The Welsh Government should act to do all it can to help stop a further escalation of the human tragedy being experienced in care homes.”

The different situations in England and Wales have been further highlighted in a social media post this afternoon.

A picture, which it is claimed was taken outside Bryn yr Haul care home in Mold, appears to show staff being trained by the army to swab for coronavirus tests.

However, as the home is located around nine miles inside the Welsh border in Flintshire, the anonymous author said staff and residents would not be eligible to be tested themselves.

You can view the post below, which has been cropped and circulated on Twitter .

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