Politics

Government measures to ease pressure on Welsh NHS

by Lowri Pitcher

As of Monday, April 6, there were 3,197 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Wales. As across the whole of the UK, the number of hospital admissions as a result of the virus are increasing. While a number of Westminster’s decisions are applicable to Wales, healthcare is devolved to the Senedd. Therefore, it is important for us to understand what measures are being taken by the Welsh Government in order to prepare the Welsh NHS to deal with COVID-19. 

Field hospitals and increasing hospital bed numbers 

As the number of patients suffering from the coronavirus increases, so too are the expected rates of hospital admissions. The Welsh Government has been working over the last few weeks in order to dramatically increase the number of beds available to patients who need both critical and general hospital care. This has led to the commissioning of field hospitals and other capacity-building measures across each of Wales’ health boards. Some of these measures include: 

  • Cardiff and Vale University Health Board – the Principality Stadium will be converted into a field hospital with space for 2,000 beds.
  • Aneurin Bevan Health Board – The Grange University Hospital in Cwmbran will open early providing an extra 350 beds.
  • Swansea Bay Health Board –  more than 1,400 beds at the Llandarcy Academy of Sport, Bay Studios in Swansea and Sancta Maria Hospital.
  • Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board –  870 beds at Venue Cymru in Llandudno, Deeside Leisure Centre and Bangor University.
  • Cwm Taf Morgannwg Health Board – 900 extra beds at the Vale WRU centre and use the Vale Hospital in Hensol, Ty Trevithick in Abercynon and care home and community beds.
  • Hywel Dda Health Board – 660 extra beds by using Parc y Scarlets and Bluestone in Pembrokeshire, the Selwyn Samuel Centre, in Llanelli and Werndale Hospital in Carmarthen.

Ventilators

One of the most sought after pieces of equipment which could drastically help the number of patients recovering from the coronavirus are ventilators.  These pieces of equipment help patients’ ability to breathe by pumping oxygen into the lungs and removing carbon dioxide. 

Vaughan Gething, Health Minister for the Welsh Government stated this morning: “Within Wales, the number of critical care beds is normally around 153. As of 3 April, there were 353 critical care or invasively ventilated beds. 

“This number is increasing on a daily basis. Currently, occupancy is around 48% with just over half the beds occupied with patients with confirmed COVID-19.”

As has been the case for the last few weeks, the Government is looking to increase the number of ventilators available for patients requiring treatment.  Mr Gething stated that there are currently 415 ventilators in Welsh hospitals, 348 anaesthetic machines which can provide ventilation and 207 non-invasive ventilators (these are masks which do not require a tube being placed in the mouth, nose or through a small cut in the throat). There is an expectation that the Welsh NHS will receive over an additional 1000 ventilators through UK wide procurement arrangements. 

Testing

Currently, Wales has the capacity to conduct 1,110 tests a day. The Government’s aim is to reach  5,000 tests a day in a few weeks, before reaching 9,000 daily tests by the end of the month. To date in Wales over 10,500 people have been tested. 

Addressing the criticism that not everybody who suspects they have the illness is being tested, specifically key workers who could return to work if they test negative, First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “We were the head of the UK in saying we want to test front line workers who are in seclusion. We have done significant numbers of NHS staff to get them back into the workplace….We have identified police, prison and care workers as also a priority.”

The promise to increase testing comes shortly after the Welsh Government came under criticism for not having reached 6,000 tests a day by the beginning of April after a private firm pulled out of a contract which would have provided the capacity to do an extra 5,000 tests per day. 

What more needs to be done?

In addition to increasing hospital bed capacity, the number of ventilators and trained staff who are able to administer ventilation and increasing the level of testing; the main message from the Welsh Government is to stay at home and respect the lockdown guidelines. 

Drakeford has stated that the lockdown will likely continue beyond Easter Tuesday as not to waste the progress made so far and has confirmed that there are signs that the measures imposed are beginning to have a slightly positive impact.  The essential message is that the more people stay at home, the less likely they are to catch and transmit the disease, hence drastically reducing the pressure on the country’s health services. 

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