Plan for Winter announced as Health Minister says it could take months to ‘catch up’ on waiting lists
Increasing bed capacity, increased testing capacity, new ways of delivering services have been described as “key elements” in protecting the public and health services from coronavirus this winter.
Health Minister Vaughan Gething set out the preparations being made by health and social care services in Wales for the challenges expected in the Winter Protection Plan – which you can read in full in this PDF.
It explains how services will deal with the added challenge of Covid-19 to what is traditionally a very busy time for health and social care.
Mr Gething said “We all know that winter is always a challenging time of the year for our health and social care 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 next days and weeks will determine whether we have to move to introduce more significant measures to control the virus.
“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.
“It 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 on stopping the spread of coronavirus and ensuring the NHS has enough capacity to deal with an increases in cases.
Increasing bed capacity, new ways of delivering services, increased testing capacity, use of technology and an expanded flu vaccination programme are all key elements in protecting the public from coronavirus are all mentioned.
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.
Welsh Government say 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.
Unveiling the report at yesterday’s Plenary session, Mr Gething said that whilst it will take time to recover from the pandemic, “the plan demonstrates our continued commitment to the people of Wales throughout this exceptional public health emergency.”
However Shadow Health Minister Andrew RT Davies asked if the waiting lists for treatment and appointments could be tackled during the winter months.
He added: “It is vital that we understand the support that the staff require, both in social and in health settings.
“Could you highlight how this plan will start to address the issue of tackling the waiting lists that have built up through the summer months? Because it is critically important that we do make progress in that particular area. I agree entirely with you when you say about the issue of it being a real troubling time when you’ve got COVID and waiting times and normal winter pressures, but it’s important that the public can have confidence that some of these waiting times will be eaten into.”
Mr Gething replied, “I’m afraid I don’t share the Member’s optimism about the ability to significantly eat into waiting lists over the winter period. It’s a reality in every nation of the UK that the significant increase in activity that has built up during the first period of lockdown, where we both ended NHS services. You’ll recall that on 13 March I was the first UK health Minister to make the decision to pause most forms of elective activity.
“We’ve seen a significant build-up as a result of that, and then, even as services have restarted, there’s been some reluctance from members of the public to access services that are now available. In common with every other Minister in every one of the four nations, I’d say that most of the next term, a full Senedd term, will be likely to be needed to catch up with the activity we’re seeing, partly because of the activity that’s built up, but also because we’re not able to see people in the numbers we’d otherwise do. That’s about the need to screen people, between COVID secure and those where they are suspected or COVID-positive.”
“It’s also the reality that our staff can’t undertake as many procedures with the additional PPE requirements. So, it isn’t realistic for us to expect there to be a significant eating into waiting lists through this period of time. It will need prioritisation for people with the greatest need, and that means that it’s going to be difficult because some people will need to wait longer.
He also noted that more support—occupational health support, health and well-being support for staff have been introduced.
The Winter Protection Plan 2020/21 can be read here.
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