Welsh Government tackling anti-vaccine conspiracies following mumps outbreak

(Title Image: marriedtothesea.com)

Now it’s time for a summary of this afternoon’s questions to the Health Minister, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth)

Principles and Practice

Shadow Health Minister, Angela Burns AM (Con, Carms. W. & S. Pembs.), brought up various local health board mission statement tropes, saying they’ll put people first, care for people, keep people well etc. When it comes down to practising what they preach, however, they often depressingly fall short:

“My constituent….was scheduled for an urgent spinal operation in January. Without it, her spine would deteriorate to such an extent that her temporary paralysis would become permanent. From January, her operation was cancelled five times by Swansea Bay University Health Board, until we had a result last week…. I’m now quoting directly from a letter from a consultant who says, ‘I regret to inform you that the situation with access to spinal surgery in Swansea is creating such delays I’m witnessing people coming to harm. These cases have been appropriately reported as they occur.'”
– Shadow Health Minister, Angela Burns AM

The Minister couldn’t defend five cancellations for serious surgery and asked for specific details – but Angela Burns didn’t stop there. She mentioned a 93-year-old constituent who was left on the floor of a ward at Withybush Hospital for five hours as well as a 25-year-old constituent who was sent to a secure unit near Northampton and has since deteriorated.

The Minister accepted there was always something to learn when things go wrong and given the seriousness of the statements regarding quality of care, they should be referred to the relevant inspectorates.

Cwm Taf cultural issues “go beyond maternity services”

Helen Mary Jones AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) returned to the fallout from the Cwm Taf maternity scandal. While she accepted that it’ll take longer than 6 months to transform a culture, the public may not understand this. When will the Minister be able to assure people in the area that services are safe? She received correspondence suggesting the cultural issues might go beyond maternity services.

“I recently met a family who gave me evidence of grave issues regarding the treatment of both of their elderly parents separately in different parts of the Cwm Taf over a period of a couple of years. Now, these issues raise similar themes as to some of the issues around experiences in the maternity service – issues around lack of respect, around not listening to patients and their families, lack of basic care, like supporting eating and drinking for older people. This family then went on to have a very unsatisfactory experience….of the complaints procedure.”
– Helen Mary Jones AM

The Minister repeated that he wasn’t going to set any “artificial timelines” for intervention to end and he was guided by advice given by officials.

Helen Mary Jones mentioned issues around scrutiny (or lack of) by independent members of the Cwm Taf board, raised at a recent Health Committee meeting, saying the Minister had to take some responsibility for appointing them. The Minister said changes have been made to the induction process for independent members so they fully understand their jobs.

Anti-vaccination movement “has done real damage”

Caroline Jones AM (BXP, South Wales West) raised the matter of a mumps outbreak at several universities in the south. Last year, the UK lost measles-free status – although vaccination rates are higher in Wales than England. What was the Welsh Government doing to improve vaccination rates by 2-3% to hit the 95% coverage target?

The Health Minister said the reason the UK is no longer deemed measles-free is a lengthy period of low vaccinations in England, no doubt caused by disgraced Andrew Wakefield’s anti-MMR drive.

Caroline Jones added that when celebrities and so-called experts spread myths and lies on social media it makes the job of Public Health Wales much harder. The Minister agreed:

“We regularly provide statements to reassure the public about the safety and efficacy of all the vaccines that are provided and the science and the evidence base behind them, as opposed to the suspicion and the growth of fake news in particular, a range of its proponents in a variety of different positions of influence.”
– Health Minister, Vaughan Gething

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