‘Strong’ evidence for face coverings – Rhun ap Iorwerth calls for Welsh Government to recommend masks to limit coronavirus spread

Further scientific evidence on the effectiveness of face coverings in the fight to stamp out coronavirus has prompted Plaid Cymru to repeat their calls on the Welsh Government to encourage the use face coverings.

Rhun ap Iorwerth, Plaid Cymru MS and Shadow Minister for Health and Care, has called on the Welsh Government to follow the latest scientific evidence on face coverings, and to encourage the public to wear masks in certain enclosed public spaces.

A growing science base suggests face coverings contribute significantly to stopping the spread of the virus by reducing the rate of airborne transmission of aerosols produced by those not displaying symptoms.

A paper from the end of May 2020 produced collaboratively by the University of California San Diego, and the National Sun Yat-sen University, Taiwan, notes that the virus can remain infectious indoors for hours, and that ‘measures designed to reduce aerosol transmission must be implemented, including universal masking’.

Mr ap Iorwerth said this further scientific basis for encouraging public use of face coverings must be taken into account and acted on by the Welsh Government, alongside a robust testing strategy, to reduce the R-rate in Wales.

Rhun ap Iorwerth Shadow Minister for Health said,

“The Welsh Government must pay close attention to the emerging science and take on board evidence that can help keep people in Wales safe. The case for the universal face coverings in higher risk public spaces, such a supermarkets, is becoming stronger. I believe Welsh Government should respond and adapt their strategy, moving to active encouragement of the use of face coverings

“Given that Welsh Government is rightly taking a cautious approach with lockdown restrictions, here’s another opportunity to keep people safe. If it makes a positive contribution, then why not encourage it?”

Mr ap Iorwerth added that this is something individuals and communities throughout Wales can help with, and asked Ministers to support a Wales-wide mask making initiative:

“Whilst medical face coverings should clearly be prioritised for health and social care professionals, people can make simple face coverings at home. I’ll be actively sharing the large number of online and other tools available for mask-making – a ‘Masg Cymru’ initiative could bring individuals and communities together, and if the evidence is right, could save lives.”

“Cardiff-centric” rule “impractical and unfair” on rural communities, says Rhun ap Iorwerth

In a letter to the First Minister, Rhun ap Iorwerth MS, says 5 mile rule serves to further isolate those in more rural locations, and calls the guidelines “impractical”

The Welsh Government’s cautious approach on lifting restrictions had been largely welcomed by Plaid Cymru, but Shadow Health Minister, Rhun ap Iorwerth MS, has said the introduction of a 5 mile travel limit disproportionately favours those in city centre locations.

Under the new guidelines, people from two different households in the same local area would be allowed to meet outdoors – and “local” has been confirmed as within a 5 mile radius. But in a letter to the First Minister, Mr ap Iorwerth points out that this new rule is “impractical”, it disproportionately favours those in city centre locations, and serves to further isolate those in rural communities.

Plaid Cymru Shadow Health Minister Rhun ap Iorwerth MS said:

“I’d previously urged Government to look at allowing families to meet in the open air, on the grounds of welfare, as long as it was based on science and risk management. It is not clear where the figure of 5 miles comes from, nor is it clear how this rule can be effectively governed.

“What is of greater concern is that in rural parts of Wales, including my constituency, 5 miles is a very small area. Many people who consider themselves to live close to family or friends, would still be unable to see them.

“To have a plan that disproportionately favours those in city centre locations is both unfair and is another Cardiff-centric policy from a government which seems intent on ignoring the needs of rural Wales.

“There is a very different understanding of what ‘local’ means in different parts of Wales, and I appeal to the First Minister to allow more flexibility to reflect the geographic realities of Wales and its communities.”

“Distressing” that 1,700 Mental Health patients discharged whilst still in need of support, says Rhun ap Iorwerth

It’s emerged that Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board wrongly discharged nearly 1,700 patients from its mental health services due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Giving initial estimates of 200-300 patients affected, the health board apologised, saying it shouldn’t have happened.

Now that the real scale has been revealed, Rhun ap Iorwerth MS, has questioned how this was allowed to happen and calls for an immediate rebuilding of mental health services.

Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board says it was down to a misinterpretation of Welsh Government guidance, and says it intends to contact them all in coming days to be reinstated as patients.

Plaid Cymru Health Spokesman Rhun ap Iorwerth has called for an explanation of how such a decision could have happened right across the health board area, and says “immediate investment is needed to rebuild mental health services.”

Plaid Cymru Shadow Health Minister Rhun ap Iorwerth MS said:

“One patient being discharged before time is one patient too many. To now learn that 1,694 patients were discharged early, while they still needed support from mental health services, is a deeply distressing.

“I welcome the assurance that all 1,694 patients will be contacted in the coming days to be reinstated to this vital service, but the question remains as to how such a decision could have happened right across the health board area, and how there could have been such widespread ‘misinterpretation’ of guidance. I should have been pretty clear that this would be unacceptable.

“I think it’s clear that immediate investment is needed in rebuilding mental health services.”

Rhun ap Iorwerth says it is unacceptable that vulnerable Mental Health Patients sent to the “back of the queue”

There are fears that mental health patients are being discharged from mental health support services due to pressures from the Coronavirus crisis.

A leaked letter, which was obtained by Plaid Cymru, shows a patient was discharged from local mental health support services in Flintshire because of the “Coronavirus situation”.

The letter says that patients have been advised to discuss re-referral with their GPs “once restrictions are lifted”.

Plaid Cymru Shadow Health Minister Rhun ap Iorwerth MS said it was “very worrying” doctors were being told to send vulnerable patients to the “back of the queue”.

Mr ap Iorwerth said that whilst delayed appointments would be understandable due to Covid-19, discharging patients receiving mental health support because of capacity issues was “unacceptable”.

The Shadow Health Minister said problems were building up with mental illnesses going untreated or undiagnosed because of the current crisis and that the Welsh Government should be looking at ways to “step up support” for those with mental health problems rather than being in a situation where Doctors were being told to discharge them.

Chief Officer of North Wales Community Health Council, Geoff Ryall-Harvey said the situation was “extremely concerning”.

Mr Ryall-Harvey said they saw “no reason” why patients with pre-existing mental health issues should be discharged and said that the number of patients approaching GPs with mental health problems was “increasing”.

Plaid Cymru Shadow Health Minister Rhun ap Iorwerth MS said:

“It is very worrying that Doctors were being told to send vulnerable patients with mental health problems to the back of the queue.

“We can all understand why services had to be changed to reflect COVID-19 pressures, and delayed appointments would be understandable. But to discharge a patient receiving mental health support, because of capacity problems, is clearly unacceptable.

“This clearly shouldn’t have happened and we need know why this message went out. We already know that problems are building up with physical illnesses going untreated or undiagnosed because of the current crisis. Well, the same goes for mental health. Government needs to be looking at ways to step up support for those with mental health problems. Instead, here we had Doctors being told to discharge them.”

Chief Officer of North Wales Community Health Council, Geoff Ryall-Harvey said:

“Non-urgent primary care mental health services have been suspended on the advice of the Welsh Government, due to social distancing issues. This is understandable in the present circumstances. However, in North Wales, patients have been advised that they have been discharged from the service and that they should seek a re-referral to the service once “COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

“This is extremely concerning. We see no reason why patients with pre-existing mental health issues should be discharged. At this time patients need professional support more than ever. We are informed by local GPs that the number of patients presenting to them with mental health problems is increasing and, post-COVID-19, could be problematical. This would leave long-term patients struggling to receive treatment as waiting lists increase considerably.”

“Get us back on track”, Rhun ap Iorwerth tells Welsh Government as Wales in UK-wide testing scheme hits buffers

Plaid Cymru Shadow Minister for Health Rhun ap Iorwerth MS has called on the Welsh Government to get its “house in order” on testing.

The Welsh government announced yesterday it was taking part in a UK-wide home testing scheme, but the UK government website showed at Tuesday lunchtime that there were no home kits available and that there was no availability for the public to go to a drive-in testing centre in Wales.

The Shadow Health Minister said it was “worrying” that the scheme had already “hit the buffers” after only being announced yesterday.

Mr ap Iorwerth said that it confirmed that Plaid Cymru was right to warn about lack of urgency in increasing testing capacity in Wales and said assurances were now needed to get things “back on track”.

Mr ap Iorwerth said “a robust test and trace regime” was urgently needed.

The Shadow Health Minister also said he was worried to hear the Health Minister admit that some people had received so-called shielding letters from the Welsh Government in error.

The Health Minister admitted he couldn’t say how many people had received the letters in error.

Mr ap Iorwerth said the Labour Welsh Government had seen “error after error” and people needed to know why.

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

“Yesterday, we got the announcement about Wales’ inclusion in a UK-wide home testing booking and test delivery scheme. Today, that scheme hit the buffers, with no testing slots or testing kits available. It’s worrying.

“That suggests to me that what we’ve been saying all along about a lack of urgency in increasing capacity in Wales was correct! Of course Welsh Government needed to build that capacity quicker, and now across the UK we’re stuck in this boat together. We need urgent assurances that things will get back on track.

“Elements of the fight against coronavirus will be done on a UK-wide, a Europe-wide and even a global level, but we have to get our house in order too. We need a robust test and trace regime that we can trust.

“It was also worrying today hear the Minister admit that some people may have received so-called shielding letters from the Welsh Government in error, and that the Health Minister couldn’t even tell us how many people the errors affected. I know this was an exercise done under pressure, but we’ve seen error after error, and we need to know why.”

Focus must be on ‘test and trace’ says Rhun ap Iorwerth as Wales joins UK-wide home testing scheme

Plaid Cymru have said the “real focus” should be on the implementation of a localised testing and tracing program as the Welsh Government confirmed today that they had joined a UK-wide home testing scheme and that it would form part of their test, trace, protect strategy.

Anyone over the age of five in Wales and the rest of the UK will be able to order tests if they have symptoms.

Mr ap Iorwerth said the Welsh Government would be under “even more pressure” to get testing “right” after it had previously failed to reach several testing targets before scrapping them altogether.

The Plaid Cymru Shadow Health Minister said getting the “right systems put in place” during the next few weeks should be the priority.

Mr ap Iorwerth added that the scrapping of the Wales only testing portal raised serious questions about “wasted time and cost”.

Wales has also joined a UK government run testing website after the Wales only Amazon portal was scrapped.

Welcoming the availability of home testing kits, Plaid Cymru Shadow Health Minister Rhun ap Iorwerth MS:

“The introduction of home testing kits are of course welcome but the focus must be on ensuring they fit in as part of a wider strategy and the implementation of a comprehensive and localised testing and tracing program.

“We’re all in agreement that we can’t even begin to significantly ease restrictions in Wales without having testing, tracing and isolating plans in place that we can trust.

“But after consistently failing to reach testing targets before scrapping them, the Welsh Government has put even more pressure on itself to get this right.

“We need to get the right systems put in place on the ground here in Wales, working with local authorities and others to build robust systems, using local expertise and intelligence – Ceredigion being a prime example.

Rhun ap Iorwerth MS added,

“The ditching of the Wales only Amazon plan raises serious questions and concerns about the Welsh Government’s handling of this. How much has this cost us in wasted time? Great if this is the best way, there we are. But it raises the questions why are we again in this situation with so much confusion?”

Rhun ap Iorwerth responds to Welsh Government’s ‘Test, Trace, Protect’ strategy

Plaid Cymru Shadow Health Minister Rhun ap Iorwerth MS has described the Labour Welsh Government’s ‘test, trace, protect’ strategy published today as more of a “statement of principle” than a “robust or comprehensive plan.”

Plaid Cymru has long been calling for a clear test, trace and isolate plan for Wales.

Mr ap Iorwerth said a strategy is only as good as its implementation plan and said there was “no detailed plan here”.

The Shadow Health Minister also challenged on how this will apply at local level, given that Wales currently has a limited number of mass testing centres and had consistently missed testing targets.

Mr ap Iorwerth warned lockdown could not be lifted safely without a test and trace plan in place and operational.

Plaid Cymru Shadow Health Minister Rhun ap Iorwerth MS said:

“A strategy is only as good as its implementation plan and there’s no detailed plan here that I can see to put the already widely accepted principles of the need to test and trace into practice.

“It’s good to see a pledge to double daily test capacity, but that’s a given, and we were meant to be at that level already. And this is not just about the numbers – we need to see how testing and tracing will be done at pace, with a quick turnaround.

“What I want to know is what access will be available at a local level, how quickly ‘Test, Trace and Isolate’ must take place to be effective, and when we can expect the plan to lead us to a position when restrictions can be lifted.”

“We can’t start thinking of significantly lifting lockdown restrictions before we have a robust test and trace plan, and I don’t think this can be described as anything like a robust, comprehensive or detailed plan – it’s merely a statement of principle.

“A detailed plan for testing, tracing and isolating was long overdue and I think it remains, unfortunately, long overdue.

Quick delivery of Welsh Government testing and tracing plan key to easing restrictions, says Rhun ap Iorwerth

Plaid Cymru Shadow Health Minister Rhun ap Iorwerth MS has said the delivery of an effective and localised testing and tracing program will be “key” to easing lockdown restrictions.

The Welsh Government is expected to publish its plan to “test, trace and track” today (Wednesday).

Calling the imminent plan “overdue”, Plaid Cymru Shadow Health Minister Rhun ap Iorwerth MS said that it should now be “delivered at pace” – with the “doubling” of testing capacity in the short term with “clear plans for rapid turnarounds in testing and tracing”.

Mr ap Iorwerth said speed would be “of the essence” in controlling and isolating outbreaks.

To date, the Welsh Government has failed to deliver its own target for testing, having initially promised 9,000 tests by mid-May.

Yesterday, just 1,193 tests were carried out of a capacity of 5,330 per day.

The Shadow Health Minister said the delivery of the plan should be about both “quality and quantity” and that the Welsh Government should use the technology used internationally to ensure the system is as effective as it could be.

However, Mr ap Iorwerth said the “real focus” should be on having the systems put in place on the ground “working with local authorities and others to build robust systems, using local expertise and intelligence” – and cited the one being developed in Ceredigion as an example.

Plaid Cymru Shadow Health Minister Rhun ap Iorwerth MS said,

“This is very much overdue, and we look forward to seeing not only what Welsh Government’s plans are, but how they are to be implemented at pace. Plaid Cymru have long called for a testing and tracing plan to be made a priority.

“We’ll be looking for several elements – not only a sharp increase in testing capacity, a doubling at the very least in the short term, but clear plans for rapid turnarounds in testing and tracing. Speed will be of the essence in isolating outbreaks of the disease.

“Welsh Government must also have a clear understanding of how to apply technology to the tracing process – they need to be on top of and in touch with key international developments such as those being led by Google and Apple, as well as seeing how the UK-wide app may prove useful.

“But their real focus has to be on the systems put in place on the ground here in Wales, working with local authorities and others to build robust systems, using local expertise and intelligence, such as the one being developed in Cerdigion for example.

“After failing to reach testing targets, the Welsh Government has put even more pressure on itself to get this right. We can’t even begin to significantly ease restrictions in Wales without having testing, tracing and isolating plans in place that we can trust.”

We need parity amongst all Healthcare workers regarding Death in Service Benefit, says Rhun ap Iorwerth

Families of some healthcare staff who have returned or have been fast-tracked to the frontline to help the NHS during the Coronavirus pandemic could receive significantly reduced ongoing financial support if they die in service compared to some their colleagues.

Last week, the Welsh Government announced that all families of healthcare staff that die in service as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic would be eligible to receive £60,000 as a “Death in Service” payment and that this would be in addition to any other benefits that healthcare staff may be entitled to as members of the NHS pension scheme.

However, the families of medical students and graduates, junior doctors, locums and retired doctors who have all either returned or been fast-tracked to the frontline may not receive the same level of financial support because they were not on the NHS Pension Scheme.

Plaid Cymru have echoed calls from BMA Cymru Wales to demand that all NHS staff be given full death in service benefits regardless of whether they are a member of the NHS Pension Scheme or not.

Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Health Minister Rhun ap Iorwerth AM said:

“Whilst the Welsh Government’s announcement confirming that the families of our healthcare workers will be eligible for a one-off Death in Service payment of £60,000 is of course to be welcomed, we need parity amongst all healthcare workers.

“The families of these doctors who are all putting their lives on the line risk being left with inadequate financial support if their loved one dies during this pandemic.

“We’re talking about healthcare staff with less than two years’ service behind them – junior doctors, international medical graduates, and retired doctors returning to work during the pandemic.

“Plaid Cymru joins BMA Cymru Wales in calling for the Welsh Government to guarantee ongoing support to the dependants of healthcare workers who do not currently qualify for additional benefits due to the status of their NHS pension.

“We will forever be indebted to our healthcare workers who have worked so heroically during this time of crisis to keep our country as safe and as well as possible – the least Welsh Government can do is ensure all healthcare staff and their families are protected during these challenging times.”

We can’t have more false promises and missed testing targets, says Rhun ap Iorwerth

Plaid Cymru Assembly Member for Ynys Mon Rhun ap Iorwerth has expressed concern about the future of community testing and a lack of details about how to increase testing capacity after an online booking system for coronavirus tests for key workers in Wales was delayed for a second week.

The website, which is being developed by Welsh Government and online retailer Amazon, was due to launch last week but the First Minister confirmed yesterday on the BBC’s Politics Wales programme that he hoped it would be operational “next week”.

Plaid Cymru Shadow Health Minister Rhun ap Iorwerth said the delay in launching the portal was “as concerning and troubling” as the gap between testing capacity and the number of daily tests conducted.

Mr ap Iorwerth said that without moving towards a Wales-wide “mass testing programme” of testing, tracing and isolating there was no way to begin to lift lockdown restrictions safely.

The Shadow Health Minister warned that to move to a model of community testing would require “significant additional resource” and that there was “little evidence” that the Welsh Government were putting the necessary “extra measures” in place to move to such a model.

Mr ap Iorwerth questioned why there appeared to be little discussion between Welsh Government and Health Boards and Councils regarding the “significant increase in public testing” that would be required to lift lockdown restrictions and why there wasn’t a clear timescale in place for increasing the number of tests.

The Shadow Health Minister warned that there should be no more “false promises” and “missed targets.

The Welsh Government missed two testing targets which would have seen Wales testing 8,000 key workers daily. The testing targets were later scrapped completely.

Shadow Minister for Health Rhun ap Iorwerth AM said:

“The Amazon testing portal was due to go live today. Now it isn’t. This is the second week of delay – which is as concerning and troubling as the gap that remains between actual testing capacity and the number of daily tests that are being carried out.

“We can’t prepare for lifting lockdown restrictions without a clear plan for a Wales-wide mass testing programme – testing, tracing and containing. Without a vaccine or new treatments, there is no other alternative.

“But moving to community testing and tracing requires significant additional resource. Current testing resource hasn’t led to an increase in the numbers of tests and there’s little evidence that the Government is putting in place the necessary extra measures needed to move us towards a model of community testing.

“It appears that there hasn’t there been in-depth discussions between Welsh Government and Health Boards and Councils regarding the significant increase in public testing that will be required before lockdown restrictions can be lifted. Why isn’t there a timescale for increasing the number of tests, and how many tests per day are planned, for the period when lockdown restrictions are starting to be lifted?

“We can’t have more false promises and missed targets. Going backwards on testing is no way to break the lockdown.