People who can’t or don’t want to go online should not miss out, says AM

People who can’t, or don’t feel comfortable with accessing the internet should not miss out on essential advice and services, says Rhun ap Iorwerth AM.

Rhun used an individual member’s debate in the Senedd this week to highlight that more and more services are only available online and that this can lead to digital exclusion, and people losing out on deals when it comes to shopping or choosing utility suppliers.

Speaking in the Senedd yesterday, Rhun ap Iorwerth said:

“This isn’t some old-fashioned opinion; we’re not rejecting new technology. I’m more than comfortable, myself, using online services, and like so many people, technology of this kind has certainly made my life easier in very many ways.

“But as more and more services do go online—banking services, postal services, bus pass renewal systems, even the courts—more and more people are at risk of being excluded. And I do see from casework in my own office that this can cause real anxiety for some people, particularly older people.”

He referred to the recent example by Welsh Government of people having to apply to renew their bus passes online. An unwise decision, says Rhun, especially given the target audience for this.

“It became clear very early on by speaking to constituents, that people were deeply concerned about having to do this online, and many didn’t know where to start. And we heard stories about people losing sleep as they were so concerned about how they were going to renew their bus pass because they were so reliant on buses.

“My office therefore offered to help people to make their online application, and since September, my office has dealt with over 300 bus pass renewal applications through the Transport for Wales website. Three hundred people who either didn’t feel comfortable in making the application themselves or didn’t have access to the internet in order to do that had they not come to my office.”

He also referred to banking services and to the many examples across Wales of bank branches closing, forcing people to do their banking online:

“You will hear the bank saying, ‘Well, don’t worry, people can use the branch in the next town’, but then they’ll close that one too. And in addition to that, you have the situation that we saw with Barclays saying, ‘Well, our customers can’t withdraw funds from the post office either.’ I was very pleased that we had managed to put pressure on them to scrap that particular idea. But it does demonstrate the lack of commitment among the major banks to think about their customers, particularly older customers, and specifically in rural areas.

“That’s why I’m calling on Government to speak with banks, businesses, services and other organisations to make sure that customers are not isolated if only online services are offered.”

Responding on behalf of the Government, Deputy Minister for Health and Social Service Julie Morgan:

“Although we recognise that not everyone is comfortable with the internet, we want to support people to make informed choices about how they participate safely in a world that is increasingly digital. So, we do want to encourage people to use the internet, because we know that the advantages are there, but we must provide for those people who don’t want to use the internet or are not able to use the internet. So, we are taking efforts to encourage the use of the internet: Digital Communities Wales’s digital heroes initiative has trained over 5,000 young volunteers to help older people in hospitals and care homes get online, and another innovative project is the Vale tablet loan scheme, which is allowing residents across the Vale of Glamorgan to borrow internet-enabled but secure iPads from local libraries almost as easily as they would a book.

“I think the key principle of all this is that we should design public services around the needs of the end user, and typically this will mean a service that works digitally but also meets the needs of end users who are digitally excluded, and that is what the Welsh Government wants to do.”

Closing the debate, Rhun ap Iorwerth said:

“Technology is racing forward. A huge amount of good comes from changing and developing technology, obviously, but there do come some risks too. One of those risks is that people are, from time to time, left behind. We can’t let that happen. So, as I say, I trust our message has been heard here today and we’ll keep a close eye on firmer Government action on this in months and years to come.”

Amlwch Guides inspire AM’s Plastic Promise

After 1st Amlwch Guides contacted their local AM Rhun ap Iorwerth, asking him to promote their Plastic Promise campaign, Rhun this week made a 90 second statement in the Senedd chamber praising their campaign and making his own plastic promise.

As part of the Future Girl campaign, Girlguiding asked thousands of girls what was important to them, and the environment came up as one of the top five issues.

As a result, 1st Amlwch Guides, have made a pledge to tackle plastic pollution to protect the planet and contacted Rhun to share their plastic promises with him.

Rhun shared these with other AMs this week and added his own pledge to the list.

Speaking at the Senedd yesterday, Rhun ap Iorwerth said:

“Members of the First Amlwch Guides have each written to me to share their plastic promises. They include pledges to use metal or paper straws, to reuse plastic bottles, and to hold on to plastic until they find a recycling bin. Others will be buying food in non-plastic containers, ditching cling film, or, and I quote, ‘telling my mum not to buy plastic bags.’ They’re asking us as AMs to join them in being planet protectors, by making plastic promises of our own.

“I’ll be sharing my promises on social media. I’ll pledge to always try to recycle well and to continue to support campaigners for a deposit-return scheme—something the Girl Guides agree is a very good idea. And I and the Amlwch Guides invite all of you to make your own plastic promises by using the hashtags #PlasticPromise or #AddewidPlastig.

“By working together, we can make a real difference. And let’s take a lead from our young people, because it’s their future.”

Orthopaedic waiting times – we were facing a crisis but it has gone beyond that now

Rhun ap Iorwerth calls for an urgent government debate to discuss waiting times at Ysbyty Gwynedd

Ynys Môn AM Rhun ap Iorwerth this week asked for an urgent debate in Government time to discuss the very real crisis that exists in terms of waiting times for orthopaedic surgery in Ysbyty Gwynedd, and the concern that that crisis has become something far worse.

Speaking at the Senedd yesterday, Rhun said:

“In May, which was the last time I asked for waiting time figures for orthopaedic surgery at Ysbyty Gwynedd, there were 2,200 people waiting at that point for 110 weeks. Now, since I received that last response from Betsi Cadwaladr health board, over the past few weeks that figure has gone up to 2,900 people with a waiting time of 115 weeks.

“Now, I don’t need to say that that is unacceptable. The chief executive of the health board has apologised in a recent letter to me and has accepted that this is unacceptable. But we’re not looking for apologies, but a system that allows patients in my constituency and nearby constituencies to receive treatment in a fair waiting time.

“There are two surgeons which are to be appointed from January, as I understand it. The truth is that this is too little and too late, and they are now dealing with a waiting list of 700 more people than if the decision had been taken six months ago to appoint when there was a real need for these surgeons. So, can we have an urgent debate on this, because, as I say, we were facing a crisis previously—it has gone beyond crisis now?”

Rhun ap Iorwerth joins Citizens Advice Cymru to celebrate 80th Anniversary

Rhun ap Iorwerth AM joined Citizens Advice Cymru in the Senedd as the organisation celebrated its 80th anniversary recently.

Citizens Advice was formed the day after the outbreak of World War II, and initially helped people deal with the impacts of war, and the huge changes it brought to their daily lives.

While the problems that people bring to Citizens Advice have changed over time, demand for the service has only increased. Last year, Citizens Advice Cymru helped over 3,000 people in Ynys Môn.

Universal Credit, the Personal Independence Payment and council tax debt were the three most frequently seen issues, but the service helps people with everything from housing problems, to unmanageable debt through to discrimination at work and more.

Rhun ap Iorwerth AM said:

“Access to good advice is vital for everyone. Citizens Advice Cymru perform a crucial role for people across Wales, providing free, confidential and impartial advice to everyone – whoever they are, and whatever their problem.

“I know how important our local Citizens Advice services are to constituents in Ynys Môn, and I look forward to continuing to work with them to provide services to people who need it most.”

I’ve just had my flu jab. Go and get yours!

Ynys Môn Assembly Member Rhun ap Iorwerth is urging people aged 65 or over, carers, pregnant women and those with certain chronic or long-term illnesses to get the free flu vaccine to protect themselves and those around them.

Influenza, more commonly known as the flu, is a respiratory illness, affecting the lungs and airways, and is the result of an infection caused by an influenza virus. As influenza circulates each year in the UK during the winter months (generally October to April), it is sometimes called seasonal flu and results from slight changes to the virus from the previous year which means that some people who encounter the new virus may no longer be fully immune.

Speaking after receiving his flu jab by Community Pharmacy Wales today, Rhun ap Iorwerth said:

“I urge those in at risk groups to make an appointment with their local GP or go to their community pharmacy and get the free flu vaccine. It takes a minute, lasts a year and could save a life.”

A vaccine is developed for each season which is offered free to some children, everyone aged 65 and over, people in certain ‘at-risk’ groups who are more likely to develop complications as a result of having flu and also those who look after people at increased risk.

For more information about protecting yourself against flu, visit https://phw.nhs.wales/services-and-teams/beat-flu/

Ynys Môn AM gets on his bike to promote active travel

Ynys Môn Assembly Member Rhun ap Iorwerth joined campaigners from across Wales taking part in a Cycle on the Senedd event today.

They were campaigning to increase expenditure for active travel in Wales to £20 per head per annum and for the Welsh Government to put in place a co-produced, evidence based active travel strategy. The event was supported by a wide range of organisations, including Beicio Bangor, British Heart Foundation, and British Lung Foundation.

Following the cycle, Rhun ap Iorwerth addressed campaigners on the Senedd steps.

Mr ap Iorwerth said:

“I really enjoyed the cycle to the Senedd today as part of an event to promote active travel.

“We’re already aware of the benefits of active travel – active travel to school can increase concentration by up to 4 hours, for example, as well as health benefits. We must now see an increase in active travel spending to make it easier and safer for people to make short daily journeys on foot or by bike. £20 a head is a very reasonable ask!”

Letter to Welsh Government regarding Betsi Cadwaladr’s plans to centralise vascular services at Glan Clwyd.

Annwyl Vaughan Gething

Further to my oral question to you in the Assembly plenary meeting on Wednesday January 9th, we write to you with urgency regarding BCUHB’s recent announcement of their intention to downgrade the world-renowned Vascular Service at Ysbyty Gwynedd. We hope to impress upon you the need to undertake a comprehensive impact assessment of the effects of centralising services on those patients living in the most rural parts of Ynys Môn and Gwynedd, and indeed North Wales as a whole.

A commitment was given last year to safeguard the well-established in-patient and limb salvage service at Ysbyty Gwynedd – and to secure the capacity for emergency admissions – following considerable opposition from patients, staff and elected representatives to earlier plans to move services to Ysbyty Glan Clwyd. Now the health board has gone back on its word.

BCUHB’s position was explained to me in a letter from the Chief Executive dated 2nd January (a copy of which is attached for your reference). In response to that letter, may we draw the following points to your attention. (This is not an exhaustive list of concerns):

1. The public consultation on which the decision is based is now considerably dated – which raises serious questions, especially since the service has changed since that consultation.

2. Elsewhere in the UK, the Vascular Society’s guidance (ie. not mandated) is implemented in a way which is mindful of the differences in needs of rural and urban areas – these plans do not give such considerations.

3. We do not believe that there is an argument that standards need to be raised within the current service offered. Ysbyty Gwynedd and Wrexham Maelor – which would be downgraded – operate to very high clinical standards, and it is therefore questionable that standards would be higher at a site that does not currently operate any vascular services, but which also has experienced problems with services currently provided there.

4. We recall that in March 2018, the Board recommended emergency admissions would go to both YG and YGC with consultants at both sites, and in agreement with clinicians and executives, also stated that emergencies would also be carried out in Bangor which is contrary to what is stated in this most recent response. We ask what has changed since March 2018, and stress that building on a recognised site of clinical excellence is far more compelling that the current plans, especially as the Vascular Society or the RCS have specifically recommended that the service should be ‘centralised’ at YGC either.

5. At present, we understand that there are a considerable amount of emergency patients admitted to YG and YWM weekly, but that patient transfer numbers between sites are low because the present system of having two sites works well – and provides the best access for the overall population of North Wales. The proposed plans would also affect the patients’ families.

6. Decision-making appears to be rushed, and ever-changing plans give the impression of further uncertainty which is demoralising for staff and worrying for patients.

7. We understand that the Vascular department at YG can remain attractive to new consultants due to its reputation and believe strongly that the Health Board should strive for such excellence, particularly in rural provision given inherent problems with recruitment, and that it is therefore sensible to build on existing foundations in this field of medicine in North Wales. Furthermore, it has been drawn to our attention that there have been three rounds of advertising posts which also raises concerns about the quality of appointments. This is at best very worrying given that the standard of any future provision at YGC is currently unknown compared to YG’s highly regarded reputation.

8. We are also concerned about the overall impact of this change on the status of Ysbyty Gwynedd, especially in the context of the introduction of a medicine course at Bangor University.

We strongly believe that no decision should be taken until there has been an urgent and transparent review that fully considers the effects of downgrading the service will have on patients living in the farthest corners of Ynys Môn and Gwynedd, who would face added challenges in accessing emergency care provision. Furthermore, we have serious concerns that this persistent agenda of shifting vital services eastwards only puts patients living not only in our constituencies, but throughout North Wales, at further risk – especially when dealing with medical emergencies.

This service change will have a real impact on emergency admissions, and we look forward to your early response in anticipation that you will now accept that this decision must be looked at again for the reasons outlined above.

Yn gywir,

Rhun ap Iorwerth
Sian Gwenllian
Hywel Williams
Liz Saville Roberts

Axing NHS services by stealth will leave rural areas facing health vaccum

Plaid Cymru politicians representing Gwynedd and Ynys Môn in the Senedd and Westminster have called on the Welsh Labour Government to undertake an urgent and comprehensive impact assessment of the effects of moving vascular services eastwards on patients living in the most rural parts of the counties.

Arfon’s Siân Gwenllian AM and Hywel Williams MP and Dwyfor Meirionnydd MP Liz Saville Roberts’s call comes a month after Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board reneged on a pledge to keep the world-renowned emergency vascular service at Ysbyty Gwynedd, Bangor, performing a dramatic u-turn on a promise to safeguard the well-established in-patient and limb salvage service. Their calls have been echoed by Plaid AM for Ynys Môn, Rhun ap Iorwerth.

The Plaid Cymru representatives who have been at the forefront of a campaign opposing the downgrading of vascular services at Ysbyty Gwynedd are now calling for an urgent review into the effects downgrading the service will have on patients living in the farthest corners of the counties, who will now face added challenges to accessing emergency care provision.

Plaid Cymru Arfon’s Siân Gwenllian AM and Hywel Williams MP said,

‘We’ve now had written confirmation from the Labour Minister for Health that they have no plans to keep emergency vascular services at Ysbyty Gwynedd, despite earlier assurances that the service would be safeguarded.’

‘Local GPs in our constituency was given a guarantee that vascular surgery and emergency admissions would be maintained at Bangor, providing full support for emergency patients and in-patients.’

‘This latest announcement is a complete reversal of policy and BCUHB and the Welsh Government have simultaneously broken their promise to local people whilst pushing ahead with cumulative attempts at downgrading services at Ysbyty Gwynedd.’

‘If the Welsh Government persist with plans to remove emergency provisions from Ysbyty Gwynedd then they must, without delay, publish a comprehensive impact assessment of the effects of withdrawing these services on patients living in rural parts of the county.’

‘Those living in isolated communities who already face significant challenges in accessing healthcare will doubtless bear the brunt of moving this service further away from their reach, putting patients at risk if this agenda of shifting vital services eastwards persists.’

Liz Saville Roberts MP said,

‘People living in the farthest corners of my rural constituency such as the Llŷn Peninsula or the coastal communities of south Meirionnydd will be alarmed to learn that emergency vascular services at Ysbyty Gwynedd are being shifted further eastwards to Glan Clwyd.’

‘Any downgrading of services at Ysbyty Gwynedd seems illogical, ill-conceived and ignorant of the geography of rural Wales, especially given some of the distances people in Dwyfor Meirionnydd already have to travel to access current services.’ 

‘This in itself is an arduous journey but when dealing with medical emergencies, it is unacceptable and an unnecessary strain to place on patients and their worried families.’

‘The extra travel involved coupled with perennial concerns about the availability of ambulances in our most rural communities is an unacceptable burden which I fear could be dangerous to health and even life-threatening in serious cases.’

Plaid Cymru AM for Ynys Môn Rhun ap Iorwerth added,

‘My constituents continue to have concerns that changes to services will have a serious impact on vascular patients–not only for the extra distance that they should need to travel but also because they trust in the exceptional service that is currently offered at Bangor.’