The Minister for Health, Vaughan Gething MS has hinted at an easing of restrictions in Wales when the Welsh Government’s next review takes place.
Speaking to the press today, Friday (Mar 5) the Minister said that the next review would take cautious steps to relaxation of the stay at home restrictions.
He began with positive news with continued improvements in the numbers. The cases of Covid-19 are now at 50 per 100,000 in the population and the R number is below 1.
450 people are in hospitals in Wales with confirmed cases of Coronavirus and the Minister said that Wales is ‘over the worse of the second wave’.
Mr Gething said that we should ‘not let our guard down’ and that Welsh Government would be ‘taking a careful and gradual approach’ with getting children back to school, the ‘top priority’.
There were other strains of the virus including the Kent strain, which the Minister said could cause ‘a new turn’ and ’cause new problems’. There were 24 cases of the South African variant in Wales he said.
He reiterated the steps people had to take to avoid contamination and the spread of the virus.
The Minister said that there was a reduced supply of the vaccine but that Wales continued to have the best use rate in the U.K.
The Minister applauded the determination of those working behind the scenes in front line services and expressed his thanks and pride for their remarkable effort.
He encouraged people to take up the offer of vaccination and said that he himself would be doing so when it was his group’s turn to be vaccinated.
We asked the Health Minister about the backlog of people waiting for treatment in the Welsh NHS.
The Royal College of Surgeons have said that the overall number of people waiting for treatment in Wales is the highest number on record – more than half a million patients. They called the figure “staggering” and “devastating” and have called on Wales’ seven health boards to start planning “for the recovery of surgery in Wales”.
We asked what if any is the strategy to eliminate the backlog and to ensure lives are not lost.
He replied: “The figures are staggering. We have got a significant backlog built up because of the choices we have had to make to keep the country safe.
“If we hadn’t made those choices to have some NHS services being restricted then the reality is that we would have seen more mortalities.
“The figures are really upsetting in any event when you consider the amount of people who have lost their lives to Coronavirus but it could have been much more significant. That does mean though that as we hopefully see the end of this pandemic we will then have this significant waiting times challenge and we will also have big challenges around the mental health needs of our staff and the wider public too.
“We are already thinking of how we are going to address that and we will publish an NHS recovery plan before the end of this month. That will set up the approach we take. The operational plan will then come a little later. That will allow us to give more detail on what we are able to do because as I say, the position we see today is what we are likely to see through most of summer is that we are still going to see our ability to treat people to deliver on the sort of pace to eat into that backlog is going to be effected because we won’t have seen the end of the pandemic.
“We know we are still going to have additional PPE requirements for our staff because they can’t operate at previous levels of output and that means the backlog even if other activity is returning is still going to increase for some time to come. That’s why I say this is likely to take a full Senedd term to get on top of it. There are risks of more harm and the potential of irreversible harm for some people who are waiting and that is a very difficult balance to strike but it is one we are going to have to do to make sure we have the best sort of recovery whilst at the same time recognising that our staff haven’t had a break.
“We can’t simply expect our staff to run faster at the end of this pandemic to catch up on that really enormous waiting list.”