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Updated Covid-19 testing strategy for Wales published

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The original testing strategy was published in July 2020 and has been revised in light of our greater understanding of the virus, the development of new testing technology and the roll-out of our vaccination programme. The new strategy also expands our testing approach to include more regular testing for NHS and care home staff and patients in hospitals.

A community testing framework is also being published today which builds on the pilot schemes in Merthyr Tydfil and Lower Cynon to test asymptomatic people to stop the spread of the virus.

Today’s revised strategy focuses on the following priority areas;

·       Test to diagnose – Testing patients on admission to hospital, patients who develop symptoms while in hospital, asymptomatic in-patients five days after admission and planned admissions to protect patients who are at increased risk.

·       Test to safeguard – Regular asymptomatic testing for NHS and care home staff, supported living staff, staff working with vulnerable people in special schools, domiciliary care staff and prison staff.

·       Test to find – Continuing to test anyone who thinks they have symptoms to identify to isolate Covid-19 cases in the community, reduce the transmission of infection, support contact tracing, protect vulnerable individuals and help to slow or stop the spread of the disease.

·       Test to maintain – Regular testing of the workforce in various settings to find cases and exploring whether testing of asymptomatic contacts could allow people to safely remain at work or schools instead of isolating for 10 days. We are currently piloting and evaluating this approach.

·       Test to enable – Considering how testing might work alongside vaccination to enable people with a negative result or those who demonstrate the required level of antibodies in their system to travel internationally, attend work or cultural or sporting events or meet family and friends.

Health Minister Vaughan Gething said:

“Testing has continued to play a pivotal role in our overall approach to preventing the transmission of Covid-19 across Wales.

“Since the last strategy was published, new testing technologies have demonstrated it is possible to test at far greater scale, frequency and speed than ever before. Testing remains important as we roll out the vaccine. Once vaccinated, it is still critical that people continue to follow the guidance and if showing symptoms, get tested.

“Today I’m setting out our revised approach so we can continue to safeguard our most vulnerable people and protect the NHS. The strategy also looks ahead at how we can use testing as an appropriate and effective safeguard alongside the vaccine as we return to normality.”

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Health

New plan to keep Wales open and safe during “challenging” winter ahead

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The First Minister, Mark Drakeford, will today (Friday October 8) publish new plans to help keep Wales open and safe during the difficult autumn and winter months ahead.

The Welsh Government is publishing an updated Coronavirus Control Plan, which outlines the key actions, which could be put in place to control the spread of the virus.

Wales will remain at alert level zero for the next three weeks, following the latest review of the coronavirus regulations. This means all businesses are open and Wales has the lowest level of restrictions.

Speaking ahead of his press conference, First Minister Mark Drakeford said:

“We are facing a challenging winter ahead – coronavirus hasn’t gone away and flu is forecast to return this winter.

“Vaccination is the best defence we have against coronavirus – the more people who are fully vaccinated, the better our chances of controlling the spread of this awful virus.

“We will continue to focus our efforts on increasing take up of the Covid-19 vaccine across the age and priority groups and rolling out the booster vaccine too. We also encourage everyone who is eligible, to have their flu jab this year.

“There is also a range of other measures we can all take to help protect ourselves and our loved ones, such as washing our hands, reducing the number of people we meet and wearing a face covering in indoor public places.

“These measures have helped keep us safe throughout the pandemic and they will also help to protect us from other winter viruses, such as flu and other respiratory infections.”

The latest version of the Coronavirus Control Plan sets out two planning scenarios for the pandemic over the winter – in the first, called Covid Stable, Wales remains at alert level zero through the autumn and winter, with all businesses able to open.

This is thought to be the most likely scenario for the future, as we become used to living with coronavirus and we gradually move out of the pandemic to a position where the virus becomes a seasonal illness.

Under this scenario, if case rates fall, measures could be relaxed further in response, and if they rise, some existing measures could be strengthened to protect people’s health.

The second planning scenario, called Covid Urgent, is designed to deal with any sudden changes to the situation, caused by the emergence of a new, fast-spreading variant or if vaccine immunity levels fall, causing a rise in pandemic pressures, which risk overwhelming the NHS.

In such a scenario, the alert level system and restrictions would be used proportionately, but as a last-resort means, to protect people’s health, control the spread of infections and to protect the NHS.

Help keep Wales safe:

• Get your Covid-19 vaccines, including your booster when invited

• Get tested and self-isolate if you have symptoms

• Outdoors is safer than indoors

• Keep your distance when you can

• Wash your hands regularly

• Wear a face covering in indoor public places

• Keep indoor places well-ventilated

• Work from home whenever possible

• Use a Covid Pass in nightclubs and large events.

Commenting on the First Minister’s announcement Welsh Conservative Shadow Health Minister Russell George MS said:

“Like the First Minister acknowledged, vaccinations have proven to be the key that unlocked society and the economy after severely weakening the link between infection and hospitalisation. To those who have yet to be vaccinated, we urge them to do so and those eligible to get a booster jab.

“However, while we remain at Level 0, new restrictions are coming in as the coercive, ineffective, and anti-business Covid passports will limit our freedoms, fail to limit the spread of coronavirus according to the Welsh Government’s own scientists, and add additional burdens on already stretched businesses.

“There has been a poor communication campaign from the Welsh Government on their introduction, little justification of their effectiveness, a failure to address confusion and fix bugs, and no explanation on how they will police the alternative Covid test system so open to abuse.

“We have passed the peak of infections without further restrictions and passports will do little to stem the problems that has led to the worst-ever A&E waiting times, longest ever NHS treatment backlog, and second slowest ambulance response times built up under Labour mismanagement.

“So instead of further restrictions, we need Labour ministers to bring forward a proper winter pressures plan that introduces the Covid treatment hubs for which Welsh Conservatives have long called for and reverse their damaging decision to bring in Covid passports.”

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Health

New Rapid Diagnosis Clinic open in Prince Philip Hospital

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The RDC team aims to see patients within one week of referral from their GP

PEOPLE who visit their GP with non-specific but concerning symptoms could be referred into a new clinic that aims to detect those who may have cancer.

A Rapid Diagnosis Clinic (RDC) was launched on October 6th at Prince Philip Hospital, Llanelli, where patients from across Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion will be seen in this clinic.

The plan is to develop further RDCs at sites across the health board.

Patients attending the RDC will be seen by a Doctor and undergo further investigations of their symptoms. Patients will leave the clinic either with results and a likely diagnosis, a plan for further investigations or reassurance if the results are normal.

Dr Sion James, Deputy Medical Director for Primary Care and Community Services at Hywel Dda University Health Board said: “The RDC provides an opportunity to promptly review and investigate those patients in whom it can be challenging to make a diagnosis. Additionally, it will reassure patients quickly if their results showed no evidence of cancer.”

GPs will arrange for the patients to have blood tests prior to their attendance at the clinic. 

Patients will be contacted via telephone by the RDC staff and supported in preparing for the clinic.

Gina Beard, Lead Cancer Nurse at Hywel Dda UHB said: “The RDC is an exciting development that will be essential in improving cancer outcomes. Previously, when symptoms have been vague, patients may have experienced referral to several different services before receiving a diagnosis.

“The RDC will address this, delivering an efficient and person-centred diagnostic experience for patients who will be supported through this pathway by a Clinical Nurse Specialist.”

The RDC team aims to see patients within one week of referral from their GP.

The Chair of Hywel Dda UHB, Maria Battle said: “The past 18 months have been extremely challenging and have caused many problems in detecting early stage cancer in patients. It has caused a backlog in patients waiting to access care for cancer and in extreme circumstances has meant detecting late stage cancer in some.”

“In light of this, the Rapid Diagnosis Clinic will be a break-through in helping patients with non-specific symptoms get the attention and care that they need promptly and efficiently. As we move forward from the hardship that the pandemic has brought us all, it will greatly improve patient care and preservation of life in this patient group.” 

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Roll-out of Covid vaccination for 12 to 15-year-olds gathers pace in Wales

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AS 12 to 15-YEAR-OLDS across Wales start to receive their Covid-19 vaccinations, the Health Minister today (Oct 4) confirmed they will all be offered a vaccine by the end of October half-term.

All 12 to 15-year-olds will be invited by letter to have the vaccine and the majority being administered at mass vaccination centres. In some areas, vaccination will be carried out at schools.

Some of the most vulnerable 12 to 15-year-olds in Wales have already started receiving the vaccine and all health boards will have started rolling out the programme in their areas this week.

Health Minister Eluned Morgan said: “Vaccines remain our strongest defence from the virus, helping prevent harm and stopping the spread of Covid-19. Some studies have shown show one in seven children who have been infected with the virus are thought to have also developed long-Covid.

“We have provided resources and information to help this age group make an informed choice about vaccination. I encourage parents, guardians, children and young people to discuss the vaccination together.”

Dr Gill Richardson, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Vaccines, added: “We have seen the benefits that come from having as many people as possible vaccinated.

“After careful consideration of the evidence, the four UK chief medical officers recommended the vaccination of healthy 12 to 15-year-olds after consultation with experts, such as the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

“They concluded that the health benefits, combined with the additional benefits of reducing educational disruption and effects on mental health meant that vaccination should be offered.

“Children and their families will be receiving links to information with their invitation letters so they can make an informed decision about whether or not to have the vaccine.”

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