Thanks to Anglesey covid heroes

Ynys Môn MS Rhun ap Iorwerth had the opportunity to pay tribute to some of our local covid champions, as nominated by people from Anglesey, in the Senedd this week.

The opportunity came about as the Welsh Parliament decided they wanted to recognise some of the extraordinary things done by individuals, groups, key workers or businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic to help the most vulnerable and keep communities together, by showcasing them in an online portrait gallery.

Members of the Senedd were invited to nominate up to three champions from their constituency.

Speaking at the Senedd, Rhun ap Iorwerth said:

“I was pleased to be able to nominate covid champions from Ynys Môn for the Welsh Parliament’s gallery. The biggest challenge was to try and choose three out of so many who have given their time and energy to help others during this period, so I put the decision in the hands of the people of Anglesey and invited nominations from constituents via my facebook page.

“The response I received was incredible, with more than 40 nominations for individuals, groups and businesses across the island. And it was so heartening to hear the different stories of all the great work that has been done. So many people have gone above and beyond with their jobs, or volunteered their time, but all have played their part in creating a real community spirit. And their efforts are clearly truly, truly appreciated.

“That is why I sought an opportunity not only to nominate the three with the most nominations for the Senedd’s online gallery, but also to try and say a public thank you to all of those who were nominated. From the octogenarian still volunteering with the food bank to the 7-year-old who walked over 87,000 steps to fundraise. From individuals who organised scrubs, masks, ear defenders and more, to the Llanddeusant postie who did his round in fancy dress to cheer children (and adults!) up during lockdown.

“A huge thank you to you, and all the other covid champions across the island. Please know that you are appreciated.”

The three that received the most nominations from Anglesey were Chippy Chippy (for building true community spirit whilst providing children with free meals), the Gwalchmai Hotel (who fed the vulnerable and organised activities for children as well as setting up a food bank) and Caru Amlwch (for making sure that no one went without in the Amlwch area). The portraits will be displayed as social media posts on the ‘Visiting the Senedd’ social media accounts (Senedd Instagram, Senedd Facebook, Pierhead Twitter) in November – December 2020.

Rhun has also produced a video which he has shared on his social media pages to say a big thank you to our local covid heroes, which can be viewed here: https://www.facebook.com/rhunynysmon/videos/3569992173065869

“What is going to be done differently?” – Rhun ap Iorwerth responds to Welsh Government Press Conference.

Responding to the Welsh Government press conference today (Wednesday 28 October), Rhun ap Iorwerth MS, Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Minister for Health said:

“The news today that 37 further people have died after contracting the coronavirus is a sombre reminder of what we face if we fail to control the virus. We were right to call for this ‘fire break’ period, to slow it down and allow a new strategy to be put in place.

“Now we really need to know what the plan is after November 9th. We’ve had some detail today, and I welcome that. I’d called, for example, for an assurance that gyms could reopen so people could stay fit of body and mind.

“But we need more detail on what businesses should plan for, and crucially what Government will do differently in terms of controlling and beating down the virus, not least through strengthening the testing system.”

111 Rollout delayed in North Wales until 2022

Welsh Government has confirmed in response to a question from Rhun ap Iorwerth MS that the NHS non-emergency number 111 will not be introduced in north Wales until 2022, a year later than expected.

The Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board area was always going to be among the last areas for 111 to be rolled out – it has happened in stages across Wales – now the delay means patients in the north being let down.

Patients in the north have been able to call 111 to discuss Covid-19 issues, although there have been reports of difficulties getting through, but delaying the full service further means additional costs and an inferior service for patients in the north for another year.

Rhun ap Iorwerth said:

“This was always going to be a phased rollout but to wait another year in the north is unacceptable. This is a vital service, but patients in north Wales will have to continue to pay for calls to NHS Direct to seek non-emergency medical advice.”

Plaid Cymru’s 14 ideas for ‘fire-break fortnight’

A failure of policy has led to an urgent need for a ‘fire break’, a limited period of buying time to address the weaknesses of the test, trace and isolate system, according to Plaid Cymru.

Such a move would ensure a significant reduction in the R number and lay the foundations of a Covid-19 elimination strategy.

As the first party in Wales to advocate a fire break, Plaid Cymru said it remained steadfastly supportive of this proposal. However, it added that there were specific details that it would like to see included in such a proposal if it was to receive the party’s full support and prove an effective way forward. It added that now is the time to come together to once again protect our NHS and save lives.

Rhun ap Iorwerth, Plaid Cymru Shadow Minister for Health and Care, said:

“I want as few restrictions as possible to be imposed, but properly enforced, and with clear support for people and businesses affected.

“But regrettably, because of the failure of policies by Welsh and UK Governments to date, to reach that point we need a fire break now to get the virus under control and to start afresh.

“The First Minister must urgently publish a detailed plan to address the inadequacies of the current response, including proposals such as those Plaid Cymru is proposing today.

“They include a range of measures to improve our track, trace and isolate system, to safeguard workplaces, and to ensure sufficient financial support for businesses and their employees.

“In light of the advice from SAGE and the record number of Coronavirus cases in Wales last week, the case for a fire break is now overwhelming.

“No one wants to live in a perpetual state of coming in and out of enhanced restrictions. This break has to be the start of a different approach. Action taken now has to make a real difference in bringing down the R number and ultimately saving lives.”

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The 14-point plan follows:

1. Drive down ‘R’ significantly below 1 as a basis for an elimination strategy.

2. Adopt the Public Health Wales recommendation of testing asymptomatic contacts of people who have tested positive.

3. Immediate and significant extra resources for our own testing and tracing capacity with an upper limit of 24 hours between test and result whilst developing the capacity to complete mass, routine testing for healthcare workers and whole populations in localised areas.

4. Full implementation of SAGE recommendations (September 21st meeting) and a requirement for Government to ask TAC to look again at global success stories – such as Vietnam – and to produce recommendations based on those findings.

5. Full disclosure of latest ‘fire break’ advice given to and work commissioned by Welsh Government. (Latest TAC advice and work by Swansea University)

6. Every person entering or returning to Wales from abroad to be tested and retested again within days.

7. A legal requirement to safeguard workplaces by making a ventilation plan for every public building and workplace, school, and college, plus mandatory face masks in workplace canteens and corridors.

8. Commitment without delay to cancel GSCE and A-Level exams in 2021. Publish a clear plan to enable students to return home for Christmas, including testing for each student in time for them to get a result before they leave, with a requirement for Welsh domiciled students to self-isolate for two weeks in their homes if they test positive.

9. Re-evaluation of current Welsh Government financial support to maximise support to business and individuals.

10. Stricter enforcement of non-compliance, adopting a zero-tolerance approach.

11. Urgent stock take of resources (PPE, ventilators, critical care beds) and a renewed emphasis on early medical intervention.

12. Identify non-Covid hospitals to facilitate treatment for cancer and other serious illnesses alongside the development of “isolation hospitals” – separate facilities in which Covid-19 and positive patients can be treated away from other patients. The Government should also develop “self-isolation centres” such as those in Canada where people who cannot isolate from their families at home can do so safely. Isolation hospitals or units are key to combatting hospital-acquired infection.

13. Strengthen the public facing communications, re-introduce the daily press conference and provide daily, not weekly, release of statistics. This should include better communication around the benefits of earlier intervention to treat Covid symptoms and the preventative steps that can be taken.

14. Surveys conducted by the ONS have found increased levels of anxiety during lockdown and the following period. The new Minister for Mental Health should outline a Post-Covid Mental Health Recovery Plan designed to support those who have experienced mental health issues during the pandemic, and the Welsh Government should allocate funding to ensure the successful delivery of this plan.

Sport Governing Bodies need financial support to save our community clubs, warns Plaid Cymru

The recommencement of football at a national level has been welcomed by many, but without further support for football clubs at the grass roots level, many fear for the future of the game.

Plaid Cymru Shadow Minister for Health and Finance, Rhun ap Iorwerth MS, has expressed concern over the “knock-on effects” should local clubs start to close.

While footballers in the top tiers of the game have been allowed to play competitively, clubs in the lower tiers are not yet able to, and the Llangefni Town team manager has expressed concern for the “effect this prolonged absence from playing competitively” will have on his players.

Holyhead Hotspur first team manager reports that local children have “lost the desire they had before lockdown to be active” and worries for the once “thriving” junior section of the club.

Mr ap Iorwerth says that Welsh Government, in heeding the call for more money, should make this available to the governing body of football in Wales, the Football Association of Wales. In distributing the funds via the national governing body, they will be able to tailor support across clubs or leagues as they see fit, without individual clubs having to compete for funds against hundred of other clubs across many different sports.

Plaid Cymru Shadow Minister for Health and Finance, Rhun ap Iorwerth MS said,

“The sustainability of sports clubs across Wales is a real concern, and football is just one example.

“Local football clubs are telling me that they are going to disappear without financial support. The knock-on effects will make Wales less active, less healthy and with fewer opportunities for future generations.

“A local sports team is more than the sport itself – it’s about bringing communities together, the health benefits and of course, feeding talent through to higher tiers. Without clubs progressing at the grass roots level, ultimately the national game will suffer.

“It’s important that financial support is made available to governing bodies who can then decide how best to use the money.”

Llangefni Town men’s team manager Chris Roberts said:

“As a club, we, like so many others, are in limbo at the moment as we have no idea when we’ll be allowed to play competitive football again. The FAW’s hands are tied, really, because they can’t give us the ‘OK’ to play competitive games until the Welsh Government meets them halfway and puts the conditions in place to allow that to happen.

“I worry for the effect this prolonged absence from playing competitively will have on not just the physical and mental health of my players and staff, but for clubs across the country, and overall participation in physical activity as well, which is so important for our health and wellbeing, particularly at a time like this.

“Playing competitive sport has been a huge part of our lives since we were young children, so to have that taken away from us at a time where we most need it is very distressing and I hope a resolution can be reached soon to allow us to play or clubs and players will quickly disappear, not just affecting us now, but young boys and girls who want to play football in the future too.”

Holyhead Hotspur first team manager Darren Garmey said:

“We need to see a clear plan of action for the return of competitive sport from Welsh Government, and that the financial support is there to enable it to happen if we can’t have supporters for now. The physical and mental wellbeing of my players and staff is taking a battering because we can’t play competitive games, and there’s no plan that we can see to allow us to return soon.

“We have a thriving junior section at the club, but even there I’ve seen how affected our players have been by months of no competitive games – young children who have lost the desire they had before lockdown to be active and stay healthy through playing sport, whether it be football or not.

“For our senior players, those effects are even greater, as many are feeling the weight of providing for their families through the pandemic on their shoulders too and I’m very worried about the toll not playing competitively is taking on everyone in our sporting community. I don’t think Welsh Government realises how serious this situation is. They need to act to resolve it and do so quickly.”

“This confirms my belief that Betsi has to go. A fresh start is needed, for staff and patients across north Wales.”

Responding to a written statement from the Health Minister that confirms no change to Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board ‘special measures’ status, Plaid Cymru Shadow Health Minister, Rhun ap Iorwerth MS, said,

“After more than 5 years in special measures, Welsh Government has announced that the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board is to stay in special measures.

“Thanks to all the staff doing their best in difficult circumstances.

“This confirms my belief that the Health Board has to go. A fresh start is needed, for staff and patients across north Wales.”

Anglesey Food Bank continues to care for those in need

This week, Rhun ap Iorwerth visited the hard-working volunteers of a new food bank established during the lock-down period.

In co-operation with Isle of Anglesey County Council, the Anglesey Foodbank has expanded from Holyhead to a temporary location at Llangefni Church Hall. The new food bank opens the door to individuals and families who are unable to buy food, and is open from 10-2 every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. They also transport goods across the island, in order to assist those people in need who cannot easily travel to Holyhead or Llangefni.

This new food bank was set up as a result of the increase in the number of people needing assistance to put food on the table during the lockdown period. Medrwn Môn’s swift and effective response calling for community volunteers to engage with people who may need support within their local areas meant that it became clear how there are more people than ever before living in poverty on Anglesey.

Roy Files, one of the founders of the Food Bank, said: “The need for food aid increased significantly over the lock-down period. The number of referrals that came in daily during the lock-down period, were equivalent to what we were used to receiving in a week before the pandemic struck.

“At the moment the demand for the service has settled down again, somewhat, but an increase demand is loomed. We anticipate a rapid increase again if Anglesey goes into local lockdown, and winter also brings its problems given people’s needs over the Christmas period too.”

To help support Anglesey Food Bank, Rhun ap Iorwerth will once again be running his annual ‘Reverse Advent Calendar’ campaign in collaboration with workplaces and schools across the island, where people can contribute grocery items leading up to the Christmas period which will then be donated to the foodbank.

Rhun ap Iorwerth said: “This year again, we hope to be able to work with Primary and Secondary Schools on the island, as well as workplaces across Ynys Mon to take part in the annual Reverse Advent Calendar campaign where we encourage everyone who can to donate grocery items in December and over the Advent period, before we then arrange for everything to be shared with the Food Bank, and be distributed to local residents who cannot buy food or toiletries.”

If you are interested in being part of this year’s Reverse Advent Calendar campaign, please contact Rhun ap Iorwerth’s Constituency Office on: 01248 723 599 or email: rhun.apiorwerth@senedd.cymru

Fast-track Covid-light hospitals to help manage waiting lists, says Rhun ap Iorwerth

Responding to the news that waiting lists are seven times longer than a year ago, Plaid Cymru Shadow Health Minister Rhun ap Iorwerth MS said,

“At the start of the pandemic we were asked to stay at home to save the NHS but the truth is it’s been in need of saving for a long time. We’re paying the price for centralising services, failing to plan our workforce and ultimately stripping our health service of its resilience. Now we hear that the waiting lists – already long – have multiplied seven times.

“Welsh Government needs to urgently look at ways for fast-tracking those on waiting lists for routine surgery and I’ve reiterated my calls for the creation of more ‘Green’ COVID-free, or ‘COVID-light’ hospitals. Welsh Government must ensure that hospitals are able to create safe environments so that people can be confident in attending for routine procedures, so these unacceptably long waiting lists can be managed.”

Lockdown & Loneliness: We need a well-being strategy that includes everyone in Wales

Responding to the news that people living alone in areas with additional restrictions may be able to meet another household indoors, Plaid Cymru Shadow Health Minister Rhun ap Iorwerth MS said:

“I have increasing concern for the welfare of those experiencing loneliness during periods of heightened restrictions – restrictions that now impact so many people in Wales.

“I’m pleased that the welfare of people living alone is being addressed but I’d like to see a wider strategy taking into account all the information we now have on the impact of coronavirus and lockdown on well-being and mental health.

“From the impact on our youngest children – including the effects of a disrupted education – right through to the impact on our elderly and most vulnerable who we know are more likely to suffer the effects of loneliness and isolation, we need a strategy that encompasses all of the Welsh population at this most challenging of times.”

Tackle Second Home Tax loophole, Rhun ap Iorwerth once again urges Government

A much criticised holiday home tax “loophole” is costing Anglesey Council as much as £1m a year, it is claimed, and the island’s Member of the Senedd, Rhun ap Iorwerth, has again raised this matter with Welsh Government in the hope that they will act to resolve it.

Welsh Revenue Authority figures for 2019/20 show that 36% of house sales on Anglesey were charged at the higher rates of Land Transaction Tax (LTT) – with the majority thought to be second homes and buy-to-lets. In 2017, the council became one of the first to introduce a second home levy, with some of the 25% premium helping first-time buyers up the housing ladder.

It was later increased to 35% to capitalise on the island’s popularity as a second home destination – second only to Gwynedd which charges a 50% premium. But according to the island’s MS, a tax “loophole” is costing the council as much as £1m a year

In the Senedd this week, Rhun ap Iorwerth MS once again raised his concerns regarding this matter with Welsh Government:

“There has been significant strengthening within communities in Wales in the feeling, such as in my constituency, where there is a high percentage of second homes and holiday homes, that steps do need to be taken to prevent the loss of further housing stock to those purchasing second homes.

“Plaid Cymru announced a series of steps to tackle this over the past few days, including changes to planning regulations, capping the number of second homes within any community, making it a requirement to have planning consent to turning a main residence into a second home, and so on.

“We recommend raising council tax for second homes, certainly to close the loopholes that have allowed some to opt out of paying council tax entirely. I appeal to the Government once again here to tackle that issue.”