Extra 5,000 hospital beds in Wales to cope with winter pressures and Covid-19

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An additional 5,000 hospital beds will be available in Wales this winter to cope with extra pressures including any future waves of coronavirus, the Welsh Government has said.

Health Minister Vaughan Gething told the Welsh Parliament that the position in Wales remained “precarious”, with Covid-19 spreading quickly in local outbreaks.

He outlined the country’s winter protection plan, which details preparations made by health and social care staff for dealing with coronavirus and the additional pressures of winter.

On Tuesday, Public Health Wales said there had been a further 110 cases of Covid-19 in Wales, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 19,681.

Mr Gething told the Senedd: “We all know that winter is always a challenging time of year for our health and social service staff.” He continued:

“Let me be clear: the challenges this winter will be truly extraordinary.

“In addition to the normal winter pressures, we will need to respond to the unfinished Covid pandemic.

“The resurgence of the virus in recent weeks will not be the end of our challenges.

“The next days and weeks will determine whether we need to introduce even more significant measures to control the virus. So we must be prepared for the worst.”

The 5,000 additional beds will be available for “as long as they’re needed” to ensure health boards can manage future waves of Covid-19, as well as any potential spike in emergency admissions, the plan states.

These will be situated in current field hospitals, new hospital facilities and by creating additional bed capacity in existing hospital sites.

Earlier this week, the Welsh Government announced that the field hospital at the Principality Stadium would be decommissioned by the end of October, with a new 400-bed facility built next to the University Hospital of Wales.

The plan also reveals an aim for 75% of people at risk, such as those with clinical conditions and health and social care workers, to receive a flu vaccination.

If stocks allow, the flu vaccine will also be offered to other groups such as household contacts of people who were shielding and those aged 50 and over.

Mr Gething said: “This should help to reduce the seasonal demands that flu places on our NHS.

“There is no easy way to tackle Covid-19, it requires everyone to play their part in supporting this national effort.”

The plan also includes the increasing of testing capacity at Welsh laboratories, and helping people understand how and when to get a test.

Speaking before the plan was announced, Adam Price, the leader of Plaid Cymru, said micro-quarantines focused on high infection areas could help to avoid a second lockdown in Wales.

Last Tuesday, a local lockdown came into force in Caerphilly county borough following an increase of cases there.

And on Thursday, a number of measures were introduced in the Rhondda Cynon Taf and Merthyr Tydfil areas to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

Mr Price said a “smart lockdown” cluster-based approach adopted by countries such as Pakistan could be used instead of targeting whole local authority areas.

Andrew RT Davies, shadow health minister for the Welsh Conservatives, said the routine winter pressures faced by the NHS were likely to be “made worse” by coronavirus.

He said the testing regime in Wales had to keep the virus out of care homes and hospitals, be able to respond to spikes in demand and build capacity over time, and work across Wales.

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