Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd

Plenary - Fifth Senedd

24/02/2021

In the bilingual version, the left-hand column includes the language used during the meeting. The right-hand column includes a translation of those speeches.

The Senedd met by video-conference at 12:45 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.

Statement by the Llywydd

Welcome to this Plenary session. Before we begin, I want to set out a few points. A Plenary meeting held by video-conference, in accordance with the Standing Orders of the Welsh Parliament, constitutes Senedd proceedings for the purposes of the Government of Wales Act 2006. Some of the provisions of Standing Order 34 will apply for today's Plenary meeting, and those are noted on your agenda. I would remind Members of both Parliaments that Standing Orders relating to order in Plenary meetings apply to this meeting.

1. Joint item with the Welsh Youth Parliament

So, today it is my pleasure to call the joint Senedd to order, for the second time in our history, as both meet together. I would like to extend a particularly warm welcome to the Members of the Youth Parliament joining us today for this very special session to mark the end of the first term of our Youth Parliament. This first two-year term has been innovative as you have gone about discussing and understanding the issues that are close to the hearts of the country's young people. You have represented the voice of your peers passionately, effectively and maturely, particularly during the pandemic that still affects us all.

At the end of your term, you have completed three reports and made a number of recommendations, which have been discussed and presented to the Chairs of our committees in the Senedd and to Welsh Ministers. We very much look forward today to hearing more about your work and your experiences as Members of the inaugural Welsh Youth Parliament. So, without further ado, I call on our first contributor, Sandy Ibrahim, partner elected Member for EYST Cymru, to begin the session. Sandy Ibrahim.

If we can just wait for Sandy Ibrahim's microphone. Yes, there you go—it's all ready for you, Sandy.

There are moments in life that are very emotional and where a few words can hardly describe feelings. After two years of working with the Welsh Youth Parliament it’s time to say goodbye. Myself and all of the Welsh Youth Parliament Members had the privilege to work with every single young person and adult that we’ve met through this unforgettable journey, and thank you very much for that. I personally had the privilege that you introduced me to this country from Cyprus, which is my homeland, to Wales. I had a wonderful time to work, and it was a pleasure to develop my English, my skills and most importantly me as a person, and having all of you by my side.

When I was told about the first ever Welsh Youth Parliament, my first thought was, 'I will never get into it', because I’m still new to this country, I didn't know much language, and didn’t know many people. Therefore, I thought this will not happen. But with my mother’s support and Jenny’s support and push, they’ve supported me to completely change my thought, believe in myself, and lastly, put my name in for election. Back then, this was such a big step for myself, but thankfully I passed it successfully.

Through the period that we had to start finding young people to vote for ourselves so that we could actually get selected, I was really stressed because I didn’t have an idea on how to find these votes. But thankfully, again, I had many people by my side—who are Jenny, Carol, Anna, Shahab and one of my very special teachers, which was Miss Bamsey. They have helped me from all of their hearts to pass this step successfully. I say a very special 'thank you' for all of them, because if they weren’t by my side, I wouldn’t have been here today.

All of the Welsh Youth Parliament Members are feeling really proud that we were part of something monumental and that ensured that young people's voices across Wales have been heard to the highest level. We all have met incredible people and made friends for life. And let’s not forget the Welsh Youth Parliament staff, who were the reason that we all had an amazing experience—thank you for every single minute that you handled us. I wish you all the best for the future and all the best with everyone’s goals and dreams. Hopefully a day will come that we can all meet again. Thank you.

Thank you so much, Sandy. The next speaker will be Jonathon Dawes, Dyffryn Clwyd, Vale of Clwyd. 

12:50

Diolch, Llywydd, and thank you for this incredible opportunity to speak in today's debate. Now, today, in preparation for this speech, I spoke to many of my colleagues who, of course, are sat here today, but also young people from right across Wales who have followed my work closely over the last two years, and the message was clear: the Welsh Youth Parliament has re-energised youth engagement in politics right across Wales and has ensured that young people's voices are heard at the highest level in the Senedd, with so many of the Members sat here today. The Welsh Youth Parliament has also shown the power that young people have in driving the policy agenda in Wales—on the Welsh language, mental health, climate change, votes at 16 and, of course, life skills in the curriculum, we have been able to make an impact. 

But out of all the conversations I had, there was one that really stood out for me, and it was with somebody I went to school with, who I fondly remember told me time and time again that she disliked politics. And she said to me, Llywydd, 'Jonathon, your passion and the dedication of the Welsh Youth Parliament as a whole has shown the influence that young people can have in their community, and it's inspired me to make a difference'. But now, more than ever, I think that that quote shows that our work hasn't just re-energised Welsh politics in terms of youth engagement, but it has connected those who previously felt disenfranchised with these vital debates that, ultimately, are going to impact their future. 

Now, while I'm so proud of all the work we have done, in particular my work in representing the Vale of Clwyd and, of course, the young people's voices in education through my work in promoting life-saving skills and, of course, life skills in the curriculum, where I believe as a collective we have shown strength and unity is during the COVID-19 pandemic. From delivering food parcels to founding one of my favourite podcasts, Young, Female & Opinionated—I know the founder is on this call and speaking later—throughout the pandemic, the Welsh Youth Parliament Members have come together and stepped up to serve their community. We've also had the opportunity throughout the pandemic to raise issues that matter to young people, particularly around education, mental health and the green recovery to create the jobs of the future, with many of the Ministers here today, providing young people with a voice, and I really thank the First Minister and other Ministers who have given time to us to raise these issues. 

Now, Llywydd, it has been an incredible honour and privilege for me as an individual to serve the Vale of Clwyd over the last two years, and I want to say a massive 'thank you' and pay tribute to absolutely everybody who has supported my work over the last two years, and particularly you, the incredible unsung heroes that are the Welsh Youth Parliament team, the young people here today and, of course, many of the Members in the Chamber. From organising local litter picks to being a keynote speaker at the Cymru'n Cofio event alongside you, Llywydd, it has been a pleasure. But, of course, I must give a special mention to the votes at 16 panel we both sat on in June, which, I have to say, was a blast from start to finish. 

Now, these are the words I would like to finish with. I think it's fair to say that, as a group of individuals, we all have our political differences, some more than others, but, ultimately, I have never, ever met a more dedicated, passionate and positive group of individuals than my colleagues sat alongside me today. Their commitment not just to representing the young people of Wales, but to representing their constituency is outstanding, and I think it certainly sets a precedent for future Welsh Youth Parliaments for years to come. 

Now, throughout the two years, we put our political differences aside and focused on the issues that unite us and not divide us, and always putting the interests of young people first, and that is the legacy we leave—one of unity and not one of division, and the other that when young people really do use their voices and speak up on the issues that matter to them, they really can inspire change in Welsh politics. Thank you. 

Diolch, Jonathon. Sophie Billinghurst is next, and she is the partner Member of the Senedd Ieuenctid for Talking Hands. Sophie Billinghurst. 

Good afternoon. My name is Sophie Billinghurst and I'm a partner elected Member representing Talking Hands, which is the charity that supports young people with hearing loss and their families in Swansea. Being a Member of the first Welsh Youth Parliament has been an amazing experience. It has had a big impact on my knowledge of politics; before becoming a Member, I had hardly any knowledge on politics, but now I have a lot more. Having Members from different backgrounds and different views meant that a wider variety of people were able to have their voices heard. This worked well because it allowed voices to be heard from communities that may not have been heard before, because of barriers such as communication barriers in the deaf community, but having elected Members such as me meant we could voice their views.

In the last two years, we have heard many powerful speeches and so many powerful stories off other amazing Members. We have all worked together to not only represent different parts of Wales, but to represent different organisations in Wales, to make a difference in three committees. Hopefully, seeing the work that we have done over the last two years will empower young people to carry on and make a difference to younger generations in Wales. Thank you for listening.

12:55

Diolch, Sophie. Angel Ezeadum is the next speaker. Angel is the Member for the partner organisation of Race Council Cymru. Angel Ezeadum.

Diolch, Llywydd. First of all, I personally would like to express my gratitude to the Youth Parliament for being so inclusive throughout the duration of our term. As an ethnic minority, the representation we have is low, and from the little representation we do obtain, we are often portrayed negatively in the media and society. However, from the countless opportunities that have been provided for me and other Members elected from partner organisations to represent our marginalised groups, we have been able to make breakthroughs and ensure that the voices of minorities are still heard and valued as much as the majority.

Take the pandemic—BAME people were amongst the most vulnerable to the virus, hence it was ever so important to find solutions and work in cohesion with members of the community to tackle this issue. I had the chance to receive questions from my partner organisation, Race Council Cymru, and specifically the national BAME youth forum, surrounding young people and ethnic minorities' concerns about COVID-19 to ask the First Minister. To be able to have a personal discussion with such an important figure was truly fantastic, and emphasised the importance and necessity for all types of people, regardless of race, religion, gender, age and so on, to be part of influential discussions that affect their lives.

As I mentioned before the importance of positive representation, I aspire, one day, to see a more diverse Welsh Parliament. The amount of people who are discouraged before even starting, as they lack self-belief due to not seeing themselves in a political position, is unbelievable, and that is why the partner organisation initiative is so important. Just as we as Members are diverse, so too are the topics that we have covered. I've been proud to give passionate speeches and cover pieces on subjects such as Black Lives Matter and Black History Month, the environment and knife crime, but none of what I've accomplished could be without the successful running from the staff.

I had two main aims when I applied for the Welsh Youth Parliament: to cater for all and to give the voiceless a voice, and I honestly hope that I have achieved that over my term and that the work that we have done can be continued in years to come to pave the way for a more inclusive and diverse Wales. Diolch.

Diolch, Llywydd. From the beginning of our time as Welsh Youth Parliament Members, we have seen the importance and the significance of mental health in the lives of young people across Wales, with 36 per cent of the young people that responded to our very first survey naming emotional and mental health support as one of their main priorities. With the support of over two thirds of the Welsh Youth Parliament, we formed our emotional and mental health support committee after our first residential meeting, which includes 26 Members of the Welsh Youth Parliament from across Wales. Since establishing the committee, we as Members have engaged with young people, mental health charities, experts and politicians, with the aim of emphasising the need for better emotional and mental health support for young people in Wales.

Our residential meetings have given us opportunities to have discussions with some of the most influential people with regard to mental health in Wales, and have also allowed us to hear about the important work done by the Children, Young People and Education Committee to support young people's mental health. Additionally, these meetings provided us with space to engage in a question and answer session with young people to highlight the need for conversations surrounding mental health. We were then able to continue this discussion as we held our Let's Talk About Mental Health event during Welsh Youth Parliament Week, giving young people the opportunity to share their views on mental health provision in Wales. This information, alongside the results from our emotional and mental health support surveys, which were completed by over 1,400 young people across Wales, helped guide our regional and committee meetings. Across all four regions, key themes of stigma, training, preventative care and communication were highlighted, demonstrating the need for development and growth with regard to mental health in Wales. These themes then ultimately formed the foundations of our report and recommendations, which were published on 9 October 2020.

Split into two categories, one surrounding information and awareness and the other barriers to support, our committee's 'Let's Talk About Mental Health.' report echoes the opinions and concerns of young people across Wales. From improving the quality of information material to the offering of more and better anonymous support services, our recommendations acknowledge that every young person has a mental health. Whilst we believe that all of our recommendations are equally important with regard to bettering mental and emotional health in Wales for young people, there are some key recommendations that we would like to highlight as a committee.

Our fourth recommendation encapsulates the need for a one-stop shop of information, resources and support surrounding mental health. We as a committee are very pleased to hear of the Welsh Government's effort to develop this over the Hwb platform, as we believe it demonstrates an understanding of the importance of young people's mental health, particularly during this difficult time. Nonetheless, we would like to further emphasise the need for better promotion of this resource, ensuring that each and every child across Wales is not only aware of its existence, but feels comfortable in accessing the information.

We'd also like to highlight our sixth recommendation: the need for mental health to be taught consistently across Wales with greater frequency. The committee welcomes the opportunity for mental health education to come with the development of the new curriculum, however, we are concerned about how consistent the delivery will be. It is essential that young people across Wales have access to the same quality of mental health education, regardless of their location or background, and we must question, therefore, how one can ensure that this is the case under the new curriculum. Consistency must be at the heart of mental health education across Wales.

The final recommendation we would like to highlight is the need for an urgent review of child and adolescent mental health services and other mental health support services. Again, it is great to hear that the Welsh Government has already been working on this issue, giving £8 million extra each year to improve CAMHS services. However, we as a committee are calling for consistent reviews and updates of our mental health services here in Wales. It is essential that we do not become complacent. There is not one solution to bettering mental health services in Wales, and therefore, consistent analysis and reviews are really essential to help better mental health services for young people across Wales.

Every young person has mental health and it is essential that the policies of our future Government and Senedd reflect this. We must continue to pave the way for better emotional and mental health support for young people across Wales, and as a committee, we hope that the work of the next Welsh Youth Parliament, Members of the sixth Senedd and the new Welsh Government will prioritise this issue. Thank you.

13:00

Thank you, Ffion. Ffion-Hâf Davies is next. Ffion-Hâf Davies, the Member for Gower.

Thank you, Llywydd. In February 2019, we as a Youth Parliament chose littering and plastic waste as one of our priority issues. As Members, we have been having conversations within our constituents, with our partner organisations, at eisteddfodau and at our residential and regional meetings to try to understand the views of young people on the problem. Unfortunately, COVID pushed everything online, and so we gathered all of our data and drew up our report during the pandemic. In spite of this, we persevered with virtual events such as Youth Parliament Week, and the National Eisteddfod helped us to ensure that the voices of young people were heard.

In November 2020, we published our report as a committee, and it contained 10 recommendations. We called for a greater emphasis on educating young people across Wales and the negative impacts of littering and plastic waste, and how young people could help address these issues. We believe that local authorities should review their procurement processes in order to ensure that the criteria used to choose suppliers reflect environmental and well-being objectives. This includes schools, in order to ensure that educational institutions can support the work of achieving sustainability targets. The ultimate goal is to reduce as much single-use plastic waste as possible. We also call on the Welsh Government to take significant and urgent steps to halt the production of single-use plastics, with some crucial exceptions, and to consider approaches such as banning the production of single-use plastics and a deposit-return scheme.

I would like to thank the Minister for environment for her response to our recommendations. This shows young people across Wales that our voices really are being taken seriously. However, the plastic problem is clearly not solved. Therefore, we need to drive forward the agenda and ensure that it is a major issue for the next Senedd. It would also be great to see a plastic-free Senedd—something that would again emphasise the importance of our work and set an example for other institutions to follow. We are calling for decisive and urgent action within the next six to 12 months.

Finally, we'd also like to call on the next Youth Parliament to continue to call for changes in line with our recommendations. We have only served a two-year term, but in that time, we have ensured that the voices of young people are being heard and that the plastic problem is being taken seriously. Our only hope now is that you will all continue to address this problem and keep our work alive. Thank you.

13:05

Diolch, Ffion-Hâf. Harrison Gardner is the next speaker—Harrison Gardner from Clwyd West.

Thank you, Llywydd. As a Member of the Welsh Youth Parliament's life skills in the curriculum committee, we, fortunately, were able to complete the majority of our work before the pandemic struck. We consulted over 2,500 young people, parents and educators in summer shows and Welsh Youth Parliament committee events across Wales, publishing our findings and recommendations in our report, ‘Life Skills, Skills for Life’. With the new Curriculum for Wales on the way, our consultation offered a snapshot of the way that life skills and personal and social education are being taught in schools and colleges across Wales.

Our consultation pointed to several inconsistencies in young people’s experiences of learning about important subjects, such as political education, sex education, financial education and first aid, to name but a few. As the Welsh Government continued to refine the new curriculum, our recommendations included that they should provide a comprehensive list to educators in Wales of the life skills that must be taught within the six areas of learning and experience; ensure that schools in all parts of Wales have the resources to implement the new curriculum to its full potential; and ensure that teachers have the right training to be able to teach a number of new topics that will be new to them as part of the new curriculum.

Since presenting our recommendations to the Minister for Education in the Siambr in October 2019, we have been able to continue our scrutiny work in meetings with Government officials, practitioners who are developing the areas of learning and experience, and officials at Qualifications Wales who are reforming the assessment structure in Wales. We have also helped to develop the votes-at-16 educational resources in advance of this year’s Senedd election.

Whilst we, as a committee, appreciate the Welsh Government’s response to our recommendations and the reasons given for not accepting a few of them, we would like to take this opportunity to emphasise our remaining concerns. We accept the Welsh Government’s argument that it goes against the spirit of the new curriculum to publish a mandatory list of subjects for teachers to teach, and we acknowledge the Welsh Government’s concern that this would be a backwards step towards the old tick-box curriculum that the new curriculum aims to move away from.

However, we remain concerned as a committee that a lack of clear guidance could lead to greater inconsistency, and that the success of the areas of learning and experience as they currently stand is too dependent on how individual schools interpret them. Furthermore, digital poverty in Wales has become a prominent issue due to the pandemic—an issue that will only worsen and lessen the impact of the new curriculum without appropriate interventions. Therefore, we urge the Welsh Government to consider this issue further as it finalises the new curriculum.

We also urge them to commit funding to ensure that pupils in all parts of Wales have the opportunity to experience every element of the curriculum, and to invest in training and centralised resources for teachers. We firmly believe that this would lead to a meaningful learning experience for every pupil. Thank you.

Thank you, Harrison. Our next contributor is Gwion Rhisiart, representing Cardiff Central.

Thank you, Llywydd. It's a privilege to be able to represent the young people of Cardiff Central once again, and it's difficult to believe that it has been two years since our first national meeting, where we selected our three priorities. Since then, we've raised a number of issues that are important to young people in making Wales a better place in which to grow up as a young person. 

However, we wouldn't have been able to do this during the pandemic without the assistance of Members of the Senedd and Welsh Government Ministers. Over the past few months, the First Minister, the Minister for Education, the Minister for health and the Counsel General have all given of their time to meet with us virtually on a number of occasions. The opportunity to meet with Ministers, committee Chairs, the children's commissioner and the future generations commissioner has been invaluable.

The opportunity for us, as Members, to question those who represent us about exams, mental health support and job opportunities during the pandemic means that we can provide answers to young people who are concerned about their future. The Minister for Education has also given so much of her time in discussing the implications of delaying exams, as well as gathering our views on online learning. Again, the opportunity to articulate the views of young people to Members of the Senedd and Ministers has allowed their views to be taken into account when choices are being made. On behalf of all Members of the Welsh Youth Parliament, I thank you sincerely for your time.

We, as Members, have also been very fortunate to appear on various media platforms in Wales. During our time as Members, my colleagues and I have appeared on Radio Cymru to discuss our work, including our recommendations for a new curriculum and mental health support for young people. This has been instrumental in raising awareness among young people of our work, and in discussing issues with pupils, teachers and parents in all parts of Wales. In addition to this, I was very lucky to be able to appear on Wales Live with Hannah Blythyn and Andrew R.T. Davies in order to discuss votes at 16 and the representation of young people in politics. Finally, Betsan Angell and I appeared on Heno when we released our report on life skills in the curriculum. It was a privilege to be able to discuss our recommendations and our hopes for the new curriculum.

Therefore, in conclusion, I'd like to thank all the journalists and Members of the Senedd who have helped to raise awareness of our work. We really appreciate this. Together, we've succeeded in taking action to improve the lives of young people in Wales as we recover from this turbulent period. Thank you very much.

13:10

Thank you, Gwion. And our final speaker from the Youth Parliament will be Maisy Evans from Torfaen.

Thank you very much, Llywydd. It's a privilege, once again, to speak to you all.

People often ask me whether, if I could go back in time, I'd change anything. And simply, no. Absolutely not. I'd stand for election, and I'd throw myself at every opportunity time and time again. I really do mean it when I say that the last two years of my life have been the best yet. Amongst ups and a few downs, I've met some incredible people, developed friendships that I'll forever cherish and have had unforgettable experiences.

This year has pushed us all to our limits, personally and professionally alike. COVID-19 has impacted our lives more than anyone could have imagined. And, undoubtedly, it's been tough. But nonetheless, our Welsh Youth Parliament—the very first of its kind—has proven that young people are in fact a force for good in our nation and beyond.

I'd like to take this moment to thank you all, my fellow Welsh Youth Parliament Members, the staff behind our work, the staff behind the technology even—and especially today—and most importantly, each of you, the Members of our Senedd.

On 26 June 2019, we held our very first joint Chamber session, and during that session I was honoured to give the opening remarks, and I read to you a declaration that would shape, and has shaped, our relationship. I'm certain that that day will forever be in my mind, and it's a moment that I take great pride in, and I know that I always will.

Once again, I'd like to draw your attention to some of the points outlined in that declaration. It states the Welsh Parliament and the Welsh Youth Parliament will work together to ensure that our work is an integral part of decision making in Wales, and that the Welsh Parliament will commit to the rights of young people and operate on the principles of openness and transparency.

My greatest thanks of all go to the Members of the Senedd who have committed to engage with us, and to not only hear our voices, but to listen to us. During our term, we've provided you with many realistic recommendations on ensuring young people are equipped for life, on emotional and mental health support, and on protecting our only planet.

It is vital that you, as the Welsh Parliament, continue to work with young people from across the country. With the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child enshrined in Welsh law, it is your duty to listen to our views. This Welsh Youth Parliament is evidence of your commitment to article 12, which states that young people have the right to express their views freely, and for their views to be truly considered.

I'm grateful to have had that platform to share my views, and even more grateful for the opportunity to influence real change at the highest levels possible. With the voting age having been lowered to 16, young people in Wales can now do exactly that—influence change. It's very exciting. I urge every young person aged 14 and over to go online and to register to vote—it just takes minutes—because, at long last, you have that opportunity to make your voice heard.

As the inaugural Wales Youth Parliament draws to a close, I hope that you're all ready and willing to meet the next cohort of young leaders. And never forget that we, as young people, are not only leaders of the future, but the leaders of today. Thank you all very much. It's been a privilege on all occasions. Thank you.

Thank you very much, Maisy, and thank you to all our contributors, and to those who have made such a huge contribution during this Youth Parliament term.

I now call on the First Minister to respond. First Minister.

Well, Llywydd, I'd like thank all Members of the Youth Parliament for their contributions this afternoon, but also, as the Llywydd said, for everything that you have done in establishing the Youth Parliament in such a successful manner. I have benefited from meeting with a number of you on a regular basis over this exceptional year. Hearing the pinnacle of your work this afternoon has been our pleasure and an opportunity for us all to learn lessons. Your period in post is now drawing to a close, as is the Senedd itself. I'm sure that every Member of Government would wish to wish you well in the next steps in your lives, and those next steps will be even more successful as a result of the unique experiences that you have had as the founders of the Welsh Youth Parliament.

Llywydd, I'm not going to try to respond to all the different speakers we've heard, but Sandy was right in the very first contribution, that endings are inherently emotional moments, and I'm sure that will be true for all Members of the Youth Parliament. Sandy shared her story with us, and I think we were all glad to hear it. Wales is lucky to have you here, as we have been lucky with all the young people who've played their part in this very first Senedd.

Shall I just focus briefly on three things that I think I drew out of all the contributions we've heard? First, how overlapping the agendas have been between the things that you have been talking about in the Senedd Ieuenctid and the things that we talk about every week on the floor of the Senedd itself: mental health, climate change, education, the new curriculum, how we will forge a future that is better for us all. Secondly, the importance of plurality and diversity: the way in which hearing different experiences and different voices changes the nature of the conversation, enriches it, of course, but also means that we see things in new and different ways. I thought that came through very powerfully in a series of contributions. And finally, that in the work that you do and the work that we do, the work is never over. We never come to the end of the day and can draw a line under what we have been discussing and think, 'Well, that's that done, then.' The work always goes on, there are always challenges that we haven't thought of, there are always new chances to advance the causes that matter to us as individuals and as a nation. And in hearing of the work of the committees, I'm very glad that so much of what you have proposed has been accepted by the Government, and I'm not surprised at all to hear that there are things that you would want to go on advocating, making the case for, looking to secure further changes in the future.

So, thank you very much to each and every one of you for everything that you have done and for the opportunity once again to meet with you and to hear from you all this afternoon.

13:15

Diolch, Llywydd. It is a great honour to say a few words on behalf of the official opposition, the Welsh Conservative group, following such articulate and thoughtful contributions from all of our elected Youth Parliament Members.

I feel a great affinity with our Youth Parliament Members, having been the youngest parliamentarian in the UK when I was elected to the Senedd, the then Welsh Assembly, back in 2003 at 24. For me, the establishment of the Welsh Youth Parliament is the standout achievement of this parliamentary term and will stand as one of the great successes in Wales since 1999.

Over the last two and a bit years, Members of the Youth Parliament have made an outstanding contribution to public life in Wales, but, more tangible than that, they have directly influenced law making in this Parliament. When we debated the new Curriculum for Wales in the Children, Young People and Education Committee, the most powerful contributions were those from young people themselves, from you, from the likes of Jonathon, who I can see on my screen now. Your scrutiny and campaigning on the role of life skills in the curriculum has been particularly compelling, and my group completely agree that key skills, such as first aid and British sign language, should be included in the curriculum.

On the issue of plastic waste, as outlined by Ffion-Hâf, you have spoken up for so many young people who are crying out for change, and have come up with some excellent suggestions. We've been motivated by distress at what humans are gradually doing to this planet. And Sir David Attenborough only said yesterday that in some ways we are already too late to prevent some of the drastic effects of climate change, so we really do need to act now, and you've made that abundantly clear.

As outlined by Ffion, you've made meaningful interventions and raised important questions on the issue of young people's mental health too, which has been a taboo subject for far too long. This is a massive area of concern for all of us right now, as you'll see from our contributions in the Senedd across the parties, as we worry about the impact that prolonged lockdowns, school closures and just the inability to socialise with friends is having on young people.

Throughout this pandemic, children and young people have sacrificed so much, largely to keep older and more vulnerable people safe. In the coming months and years, as we emerge from this pandemic, we all have a duty to repay that debt and do far more to support young people and better meet their needs. We as MSs have a responsibility to take action on the issues that matter to you, our youngest generation. 

In conclusion, Llywydd, I'd like to wish all 60 Members of the Welsh Young Parliament well in whatever direction their future careers take them, and thank them so much for all that they've done. They are outstanding representatives of their generation. You should all be so proud of your achievements in just two short years. We all as MSs across the board are certainly proud of each and every one of you. You all clearly have bright futures ahead of you, and you've all given us hope, and we look forward to the contributions of future Youth Parliaments. Thank you. Diolch.

13:20

'The youth parliament will give Wales' young people a democratic voice at a national level and empower them to bring about change.'

That's how you, Llywydd, described the vision underpinning the Welsh Young Parliament at its launch. And without doubt, the Youth Parliament has delivered on that and much more, and I'm very pleased to provide my party's support to the work that's been done to date, and to provide my full support to the Youth Parliament in its further development in our next Senedd term.

In looking forward to the next Senedd, we will be facing the future. And the debate today on the basis of those topics that you covered invites us to look to the future beyond COVID, and to focus on the major challenges facing our nation and our world and the numerous crisis of our age: the climate and biodiversity crisis, as we've heard; transforming the education system in order to secure social transformation and to deliver the potential of everyone; and changing attitudes towards and strengthening mental health provision. On the basis of your success as young people over the past few years, I am confident that we will all succeed in building a better Wales. It's pressure from you as young people that's made the difference in ensuring that mental health and well-being will be enshrined in law in all aspects of the new curriculum.

Young people have led change across the world, and in the politics of Wales too over the past few years, and the climate crisis and the climate strikes are an example of this. There have been a number of protests and marches across Wales, including one that finished on the steps of the Senedd itself. Change is possible if we insist upon it: that is the hopeful core message of democracy. And it's very often young people who lead that change. You demonstrated that again in August of last year, forcing the Welsh Government to recognise the unprecedented circumstances in terms of the impact of COVID on your education. And in terms of independence, which would be the most radical change, it's the young people of Wales who are in the vanguard on the issue. And I very much hope that many of you one day will represent your generation once again in the independent Senedd of the future—and it will be your future. And given the spirit of unity and creativity and positivity that you've demonstrated, there is room for each and every one of us to believe that that future will be very bright indeed for us all.

It's truly inspiring to welcome representatives of the Youth Parliament for this Plenary session. I'm sure that some of you will aspire to become our future politicians. So, perhaps I can offer a few words of caution if you should do so. First, in whatever endeavours you find yourself involved, try at all times to keep an open mind. Whatever political philosophy you adopt, always be ready to explore other political views and ideas. Above all, I encourage you to do your research. Do not just take the statements of main media or even social media—delve deeper and attempt to approach every idea and proposition as effectively as possible.

I have to congratulate all of you on the work that you've done. You've made a very great difference to the way the Senedd has operated during the two years that you've been in existence, and you've made absolutely sure that we shall never ever be able to ignore the voice of the youth of Wales again. By creating this institution, I believe the Welsh Parliament has opened up an opportunity for the youth of this country to truly participate in matters that affect you, but don't be disappointed if some of your suggestions and ideas are rejected or not implemented. Sometimes, what we want cannot always be delivered. However, I feel you can rest assured the Senedd will respect and take on board all the views and suggestions you've put forward. After all, that is why it initiated the Youth Parliament in the first place. I thank you all for your participation in the Welsh Parliament, and I wish you well in whatever careers you choose to follow. Thank you, Llywydd.

13:25

Lynne Neagle, the Chair of the Children, Young People and Education Committee. Lynne Neagle.

Thank you, Llywydd. One of the highlights of my time as Chair of the Senedd's Children, Young People and Education Committee has been the opportunity to watch the Youth Parliament develop. To work with its Members on the scrutiny we undertake as a committee and as a Senedd has been a genuine privilege, and I'm in no doubt that the establishment of the Youth Parliament has enriched the debate on important topics during the fifth Senedd.

Today, we've heard directly from the youth parliamentarians about everything they've achieved since their election. Describing it as impressive is an understatement. As we've heard, the Welsh Youth Parliament has sought to influence key areas of policy, including curriculum reform, emotional and mental health, and littering and plastic waste. These are not small or easy issues. My committee has grappled with two of these topics, so I can certainly say that from experience. We have been enormously grateful for the input and insight shared by the Youth Parliament's inquiries and reports in these areas.

Similarly remarkable, though, has been its ability to provide reactive and timely contributions to developing issues. The Youth Parliament provided important views to our scrutiny of the reasonable punishment Bill, for example, and we know that you've been an important voice in the ongoing discussions about how we manage and recover from the pandemic.

As a committee, we have repeatedly emphasised the importance of hearing directly from children and young people about their experiences. Ensuring that a children's rights approach is adopted for all aspects of policy, legislation and funding has been a key priority for us. As Maisy Evans said, the Welsh Youth Parliament is children's rights in action. The impact of COVID-19 has emphasised more strongly than ever the need to ensure that our children and young people have a voice and that that voice reaches all areas of public life and decision making.

I'd like to draw my remarks to a close with three final points. Firstly, I'd like to take this opportunity to say an enormous thank you to our 60 Welsh youth parliamentarians. You have set an example that will be hard to follow, but one I'm confident will inspire others to engage and participate in future. Secondly, I'd like to encourage any children and young people who are listening to consider putting themselves forward as the next generation of Welsh Youth Parliament Members. As you've heard today, you can really make a difference. Finally, I'd like to place on record my thanks to the team of staff both within the Senedd and within partner organisations who've worked so hard to establish and support the work of these remarkable young people. This last year has tested everyone in all ways, but the resilience shown by our children and young people in Wales, including the Members of our first Welsh Youth Parliament, is a source of inspiration and pride to all of us. Diolch o galon ichi i gyd.

13:30

Diolch, Lynne. And just like you, Lynne, the Youth Parliament has been one of my highlights in my term as Llywydd. We spend a lot of time in our Senedd at the moment discussing jabs in arms; the Youth Parliament has been a jab of hope in my arm over the past two years. I've loved the diversity of your backgrounds and the diversity of your political views, but all coming together to try and find common cause for the good of your communities, your peers, and for your nation. I've no doubt that this will not be the last Senedd meeting for some of you—some of you will be back at some point. But, in the meantime,

thanks for all you've contributed.

Thank you for everything you've achieved in these last two years and your legacy will live on into the next Youth Parliament, and beyond.

So, thank you very much.

I bring this part of the meeting to a close, and we'll suspend proceedings for a few minutes, before we recommence formally as just the one Senedd.

Thank you, all.

Plenary was suspended at 13:31.

The Senedd reconvened at 13:34, with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.

2. Questions to the Minister for Health and Social Services

We now move to questions to the Minister for Health and Social Services. And the first question is from Jayne Bryant.

Paramedics and the Welsh Ambulance Service

1. How is the Welsh Government supporting paramedics and the Welsh Ambulance Service? OQ56334

The Welsh Government has provided a range of initiatives to support paramedics and the ambulance service, including £1.6 million investment to expand the Emergency Medical Retrieval and Transfer Service, and £10.9 million for new operational vehicles, which of course are green and will reduce the carbon footprint of the organisation.

Thank you for that answer, Minister. This last year has been an incredibly hard time for everyone at the Welsh ambulance service, from the paramedics who've been on the front line to the dedicated staff in the control rooms and those staff who support the service. Sadly, we saw earlier this month that the Welsh ambulance service lost a fourth member of staff to coronavirus: Kevin Hughes, aged 41 from Anglesey. Many members of staff are physically and mentally fatigued due to the increased pressure on an already busy service. Support and protection is needed, such as the supply of PPE, investment in vehicles and equipment, as well as investment in the workforce.

Can the Minister outline what more can be done to support our ambulance service workforce, both over the coming months, and as we come out of the pandemic?

13:35

Yes, thank you. I've outlined the increased investment in new vehicles in my initial response. We continue to look at the fleet to make sure it's appropriate, both for the emergency side of the service, but also the urgent care and patient transport side of the service as well.

When it comes to well-being, we've worked with social partners, so that's our NHS Wales employers and trade unions, to have a multilayered well-being offer for health and social care workers in Wales, including in particular paramedics as well. So, there's a confidential Samaritans listening support line, funded by the Welsh Government, dedicated for health and care workers in Wales. We have a number of free-to-access health and well-being support apps, like Mind, Sleepio and SilverCloud. We have a range of different resources and, on the Health Education and Improvement Wales website, there's a useful list of what all of those resources are. And it's a matter I regularly discuss with the trade unions in my regular update with them, as well as the partnership arrangements in place.

On PPE, we continue to have a successful delivery of PPE for our front-line workers. The vast majority of PPE issued—there have been over 647 million items issued in the last year to health and social care—the vast majority were directly sourced by the NHS Wales Shared Services Partnership, with all contracts awarded subject to robust governance. That includes protection from fraudulent or substandard PPE. So, in Wales, on PPE procurement, there have been no party favours, no VIP lane, no chumocracy. Everyone in Wales should take real pride, I believe, in the way we have continued to provide high-quality PPE for our front-line health and social care staff. 

I'm sure the Minister will join me in thanking all the ambulance service for all they're doing in such harrowing and difficult circumstances. Minister, last month, it was reported that concerns had been raised that some front-line ambulance staff were refusing to be vaccinated against coronavirus. This obviously poses obvious risks. The director of workforce and organisational development at the Welsh ambulance service confirmed that some staff had refused the vaccine, but that numbers were not being recorded. Can you, Minister, advise why this important information is not available, and can you advise what action is being taken to address the concerns of the ambulance staff who are reluctant to receive the vaccine? Thank you. 

I don't have an individual figure to hand today on the number of front-line staff who have not taken up the offer of the vaccine. We do know we've got incredibly high levels of take-up from our front-line staff, including within the ambulance service. We also know that, unfortunately, there is a sewer of anti-vax information that, in particular, concerns people of working age, with some particularly outrageous claims made about both male and female fertility. So, we do understand there are people with real concerns about that misinformation. 

There will also be a limited group of people who will have medical reasons why the vaccine isn't appropriate for them. That's a very small number of people, but I expect the matter to be not just resolved by the employer and trade unions working together, but by the positive encouragement for people to take up the vaccine. And I should say that I join with not just yourself, but also Jayne Bryant, in her recognition of what paramedics have done and all across the ambulance service. It's a much more wide-ranging organisation than the emergency end of the system, and the way in which they've had support from the military in undertaking their task, in making sure vehicles are ready, it's been a real team Wales effort, and I think everyone, as I say, should take real pride in what they continue to do in these, the most challenging of circumstances. 

Question 2 to be asked by Mike Hedges and to be answered by the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services. Mike Hedges.

People Living Alone

2. Will the Minister make a statement on the support available to people living alone during the COVID-19 pandemic to avoid the risk of loneliness and isolation? OQ56300

We have taken a number of actions to support people to stay connected with family and friends, including additional funding for the third sector and local government, and for mental health and emotional support services. Our regulations also allow people to form an extended household if they live alone. 

13:40

Can I thank the Minister for her response? And I know that she shares my concern regarding loneliness and isolation. No-one should go a day without speaking to someone, but, unfortunately, many do. Does the Minister agree we need to ensure either whole contact or virtual meetings for those living alone, who don't have any family who they can form a bubble with, to ensure that they have priority in being dealt with, especially when they're self-isolating and they have to keep away from people anyway? The COVID crisis will eventually end, but unless action is taken loneliness and isolation will not. Does the Minister agree with me that we need to take action to ensure that people have daily contact with somebody?

Thank you very much, Mike, for that question. And can I thank you for consistently raising in this Chamber issues related to loneliness and also issues related to older people? Because I know you chair the cross-party group on older people, which I attended recently, so thank you very much for that.

Yes, I believe it's absolutely crucial that we do all we possibly can to make contact with people who are lonely. I think that we know that in this pandemic those people who were lonely to begin with are now much more lonely, and particular groups are likely to be lonely, including older people, but, of course, younger people as well, and other groups, such as disabled people suffer from loneliness specifically.

I have responded, in similar questions, to make reference to the Friend in Need initiative, which was organised by Age Cymru, which guarantees a telephone call every week to an older people who is lonely, which I think is the sort of initiative that Mike Hedges would support, because it is giving that contact. So, we actually give £400,000 to Age Cymru to deliver that. And I've actually taken part in one of the sessions, and I can see how much it means to a lonely person to be able to talk over the week to a volunteer, who is often an older person themselves, but who has been trained to specifically take part in this project. So, yes, that reaches a small number of people, but it's initiatives like that, and the other initiatives that I referred to in my first answer, that I think are crucial that we continue to carry out in this pandemic.

Thank you for your answers, Minister. There's very little I can add actually to the excellent points that have just been made by Mike Hedges in his question, other than to reiterate some of those issues. As you said, the health risks of loneliness and isolation were there prior to the pandemic. So, in many ways, those issues have been exacerbated by the pandemic, and it's not just for older people, it seems to be across a wider section of society. So, as we emerge from this difficult time, and we are seeing this reality for people who haven't previously experienced it, what strategy are you developing to help people suffering from mental health issues, which we know are on the increase, and also, specifically, to tackle this loneliness aspect of those issues?

Thank you very much, Nick, for that question. I absolutely agree that it is widespread. I think we tend to think of it as older people who are suffering from loneliness, but it's specifically younger people, and, as I said earlier, disabled people, people from the black and minority and ethnic community and people suffering from mental health problems. This has all been an additional difficult time for them. So, we've certainly recognised this by the funding that we have put in, with additional funding for mental health support—an additional £42 million for mental health in our draft budget to support this—because we certainly see the effects of this pandemic as carrying on beyond the period of the pandemic, and there will be some scars on people that we'll have to continue to work with. So, as I say, we're putting extra money in for the mental health support, and we'll be doing all we can to continue some of this support for people who have experienced loneliness, and some of them in a way that they haven't experienced it before. 

Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

Questions now from the party spokespeople. Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Rhun ap Iorwerth. 

Thank you, Llywydd. Minister, you will be aware that a group of organisations wrote to the UK Prime Minister on measures to protect health and care workers from the virus. They say that steps to reduce airborne transmission have been insufficient and they are calling for an improvement in ventilation and for changes in PPE guidance in order to protect the workforce. Will you work proactively in responding to those demands and recognise that our understanding of airborne transmission has changed considerably over the past 12 months and that public health messaging, as well as that protection guidance, should be amended to reflect that, including putting more emphasis on the importance of fresh air?

13:45

I'm happy to say that in regular Welsh Government messaging, we highlight the importance of good ventilation, and that's in not just press conferences and other events that I do, but from others—from the chief medical officer, the deputy chief medical officer and indeed the First Minister, who has highlighted this as well. I know that that's practically been taken on board. For example, we have made sure that my son has an extra layer of clothing because windows in his classroom were open when he returned to school. So, the message is being taken up on ventilation in a much more significant and sustained manner than, to be fair, it would have been at the start of the pandemic.

When it comes to the review of the adequacy of personal protective equipment, that's a matter where we do regularly undertake reviews. The lead for that is the deputy chief medical officer, Professor Chris Jones. He regularly engages with other colleagues across the UK to make sure that our guidance is up to date. I understand the concerns that some people have about whether the current version of the PPE is the right version of PPE, given that we have a more transmissible variant of the virus—the Kent variant—in place as the dominant variant in Wales, but the latest review shows that our current standards are appropriate, and, as ever, they're always under review.

Thank you. I want to turn now to the long-term impact of COVID-19. It's wonderful that the vaccination process is developing well, but many people will wait a long time before getting a vaccination, including young people, and they are also open to acute and serious risk, as we have seen in the most painful manner on Anglesey over the past few days in light of the deaths of two young men, Kevin Hughes and Huw Gethin Jones. I know that I speak on behalf of the whole of the Senedd as we send our condolences to their families today. But for those who will be fortunate enough not to develop serious illness, we are coming to understand more and more of the dangers of long COVID.

I met this week with the organisation Long Covid Wales and discussed the need for far more investment in long COVID care, which is different to post-COVID rehab. We need healthcare for the sufferers of long COVID. I note, today, that an additional £750,000 has been allocated in Scotland for long COVID care. Can we have a commitment of enhanced resources to provide this care and, crucially, to ensure that it's available in all parts of Wales? Because at the moment, you are far more likely to get care if you are living in the south-east of Wales. 

This is a matter that I do take seriously. I'll be writing imminently to the health committee in response to the Chair's letter on behalf of the committee on long COVID with a series of questions within that. We'll set out what we are doing and the work we are undertaking on the long COVID pathway we've agreed as well. I think it's really important to understand that, when we talk about long COVID, we're talking about a variety of impacts, because this is not a commonly experienced condition, in the sense that the symptoms may vary. You may have people who have never been to a hospital, but have never fully recovered and have recurrent symptoms that have an impact on their day-to-day activities. You may also have people suffering from a much more significant impact and there may be people with different organ damage, with longer term consequences as well. We're looking to have an approach that takes account of the different impacts on different people and we recognise that this will require a multidisciplinary approach.

It's part of the reason why we've worked with colleagues in primary care, as well as secondary care, in understanding how to put together a pathway and to make sure that primary care colleagues are equipped to refer people to the appropriate part of that pathway as well. That will be really important for the future, because the honest truth is that today we don't have enough understanding to set up a definitive treatment pathway that will do for everything and anything in the future. We will continue to learn, which is why we continue to invest in research around long COVID. It's why, whatever happens on the first Thursday in May, the next Government will continue to need to reassess the state of our knowledge and our understanding and will, again, need to return to the current pathway we have in place to make sure it's still appropriate and to understand as further advances in care and treatment are provided. So, this is a moving picture but one that we're committed to return to, because I recognise this is going to be one of the longer term impacts of COVID. It's a success story that so many people have recovered, but the nature of that recovery will be varying and there will be recurrent episodes for a number of people. 

13:50

There is still a lack of understanding on how hard long COVID can hit people. Even if they don't have to go to hospital, it can take many weeks for some people to recover from COVID and the symptoms of COVID. I've heard of one individual who was threatened with disciplinary action from her employer unless she returned to work within a fortnight. She, as it happens, has recovered now but it took her a month to recover from COVID. Now, most employers are being responsible, but with all sorts of stories to be heard about workers being requested to use annual leave to self-isolate or to ignore a request to self-isolate entirely, will you be entirely firm on this issue and press for prosecution if necessary—which could be as serious as corporate manslaughter in the most serious of cases—if there is clear evidence that employers or others are acting in a way that contributes towards the spread of this virus?

There are two distinct points there. The first is that Ministers don't make prosecution decisions. There's a clear separation of powers. It's probably a good thing for everyone that, as the health Minister, I'm not in a position to direct the criminal justice services to undertake prosecutions or not. However, when it comes to the law and our expectations, we do work alongside the Health and Safety Executive. It's a reserved body, but they're very clear about what requirements of the law are in place here in Wales and what that means in terms of businesses that are not compliant in following those rules, whether it's retail or other activities as well. The guidance we issue has a real bearing on making sure that workplaces are safe workplaces with an infectious condition that is in widespread circulation still around the country. I think that's the point the Member is really driving, about making sure there's a clear message from the Government about expected standards of behaviour from employers and not to hesitate in supporting action that is taken, whether it's by environmental health organisations, trading standards or, indeed, non-devolved areas, to ensure that workers are kept safe. 

We have these conversations on a regular basis, not just in the social partnership but also in the national health and safety forum that's been created as well. We are, I think, being very clear about our expectations for employers about how they need to keep their businesses safe and secure to keep their workers and their customers safe and secure. We'll need to return to this again, as our evidence, knowledge and understanding of COVID changes in the future. I hope that, as we do recover and get out of the pandemic crisis, we'll make sure there isn't a dropping of the guard when it comes to this. Because I also wouldn't want to see employers taking precipitative action against people who, in my former life, I would potentially have been taking discrimination action for if these are people with a material impact on their day-to-day activities with a recurring condition. That seems to me to describe a great deal of what long COVID actually means for people who have the condition and the likelihood of a future occurrence. I hope that all employers are taking a much more considerate approach, because these are matters where our understanding will continue to develop and we want people to return to work and contribute to the future of our economy. 

Good afternoon, Minister. When are you hoping to bring forward a national plan for dealing with the waiting list problem that we have here in Wales?

I expect to be in a position to publish an NHS recovery plan before the end of March. I have indicated this previously. We'll need to look at recovery in general terms, so not just planned care and elective services but more broadly as well. We need to describe the approach we're taking and what that will mean to give everyone some context about the scale of the task as it is and then to set out how we're already working to plan and then to be able to deliver it. The challenge will still be that, by the end of March, we're unlikely to have a definitive set of delivery plans because we still don't anticipate reopening all of our services within the national health service by that point, and that will affect the scale of the problem that any future Government will have to confront and resolve. But we do expect to provide a much clearer guide about what recovery will look like. 

You talk about recovery in a general way, and I appreciate that. I understand that you have to look at the NHS as a whole, but I am particularly concerned about the waiting-for-treatment times. We now have over 538,000 people—that's one in five of our population—waiting for some form of treatment. Granted, they're not all humongously urgent—although to the person involved, it may well be—but there are an awful lot of people, ranging from people waiting for diagnostic treatment to women waiting for gynaecological treatment, people needing treatment for their eyes so they don't lose their eyesight; these are all people whose quality of life and whose eventual outcomes could well be severely impacted by waiting for treatment. I understand the position we're in—we've been through hell on earth this last year and a half—but I am desperately seeking from the Welsh Government a real assurance that there's going to be a targeted plan specifically aimed at this.

The reason I ask you, Minister, is because I hear health boards telling me that they are going to take up to a decade to recover and get back to the places they were before the pandemic happened. I am aware that many health boards use other health boards to provide certain services. Unless there's a united national plan in place, it could be very difficult to get all the services to start coming up to the boil at the same time. For example, in Hywel Dda, there is no treatment for keratoconus; you have to go to the Princess of Wales in Bridgend. If that board does not decide to liven up that process in time, then people in Hywel Dda will continue to wait. Can you give us an assurance that you're going to specifically look at this, and can you give us some idea of how you're going to be able to address that problem? As I say, I totally understand it's a significant challenge, but we also need to be aware of funding and resources. Are you able to give us any indication?

13:55

When we do publish the NHS recovery plan, we will within it address the fact that there will be a resource requirement for this not just in a year, but over the course of the whole term. I've indicated previously that I think the recovery will take least a full Senedd term. That's the scale of the problem we have. It's probably not much comfort to people here in Wales, but you'll find a huge scale of challenge in every part of UK, because of the last year that we've all lived through. I recognise the point the Member makes about not just the increase in the volume and the backlog that's been built up, but the fact that that may mean that there is harm that is caused that may not be reversible. That is part of the difficulty in having to make choices through this pandemic and about weighing up and balancing the impact on different people.

I should say, though, that it isn't the case that one in five people in Wales are on a waiting list. A number of the people who are waiting will have appointments on different lists, and it's part of the challenge in having an accurate discussion about the scale. The numbers the Member quotes are the numbers of outstanding appointments in a variety of areas, as she's indicated, from out-patients to more urgent activity as well. That reinforces for me the importance of continuing to get on top of coronavirus and not letting the virus get out of control again, because it would just mean a further interruption and even more harm and an even bigger backlog. But yes, you can expect a plan that covers a range of different areas, including a balance between local, regional and national choices. I may not be the Minister who has to make those national choices, but whoever does return as the health Minister after the election in May will need to be prepared to make national choices to build upon the plan that will be published by the end of March, because this, as I say, is going to be a significant undertaking for the whole country.

To go back to those statistics, they did come from Government information, but I am happy to go back and review that, because it was quite clear it was one in five. One of the areas that's leapt astronomically in the last year is the area of gynaecological services. We had less than 1,000 women waiting for over 36 weeks; now we've got over 13,000 women waiting for some kind of treatment. That, of course, spins back to health inequalities, doesn't it? All of the parties will have received a letter in the last week from the Royal College of Physicians on behalf of 30-odd organisations talking about health inequalities. Will the Government be able to make any commitment that in this recovery plan is not just going to be a broad-brush approach, but that you will look at key health inequalities to ensure that groups such as women, who traditionally have suffered unequal health in a wide group of areas, are brought into the mix at the same time? Of course, it's not just women; there are a lot of ethnic minority groups that have particular health inequalities. Will you be listening very closely to the representations being made by the likes of the Royal College of Physicians to try to ensure that we don't allow this pandemic to broaden those health inequalities that we already have here in Wales?

14:00

If I deal with the point about the figures first, and then deal with your point about health inequalities, on the figures, the figures are accurate in terms of the number of appointments that are outstanding, but there isn't one fifth of people who have an outstanding appointment because some of those will be individuals on more than one list, and that's the point that I'm making. In terms of the number of people that are really waiting, it isn't actually one in five of the population. The figure you quote is an accurate figure for the number of individual appointments. I myself know that I could potentially be on two waiting lists, for the sake of argument, if I were a new patient with the two individual issues where the NHS regularly cares for me. So, that's the point that I'm making in having an accurate conversation about the scale of the challenge we face.

On your point about healthcare inequalities, we recognise the pandemic has exacerbated healthcare inequalities and made them even more stark than they were before. The level of harm, the different harm that has been meted out by coronavirus—. It is not a great leveller. It is the reality that harm is done in those communities, those families, those individuals who started this pandemic with the greatest number of health inequalities at the outset.

We have to make sure that the recovery does properly take account of that in how we prioritise people in the greatest clinical need, how we get to those people first, and how we make sure that our recovery doesn't exacerbate, yet again, the healthcare inequalities that there are. That means that it can't be about the sharpest elbows finding their way through a system. It's actually about how we deliberately design a recovery that does take account of all of those healthcare inequalities, and that will be difficult because of the scale of the challenge that we have. But I actually think that our prudent healthcare and value-based healthcare approach will help us to do that, to drive that into our system. This is all entirely consistent with the 'A Healthier Wales' approach that we have, where, of course, you'll recall from the outset of this term, from the parliamentary review to having 'A Healthier Wales', healthcare inequalities were very much at the heart of that plan, and they'll need to be at the heart of our recovery approach, too.

Orthopaedic Treatment

3. Will the Minister make a statement on waiting times for orthopaedic treatment in north Wales? OQ56314

Yes. The Welsh Government continues to work alongside Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board to develop their orthopaedic plans and to support them to adapt their delivery to meet the changing needs brought about by COVID-19, including the significant increase in waits for orthopaedic treatment.

Thank you. This follows on, really, from my colleague Angela Burns and the concerns around what's happening with regard to treatment. So, I've been liaising with the chief executive of Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board. Earlier this month, she sent me a letter that stated, and I quote,

'with the small volume of elective surgery that we've been able to perform over the past 12 months, waiting times have increased considerably'.

I was writing to her about a constituent who'd been waiting a long time in immense pain. She said one consultant, Mr Ganapathi, now has more than 450 patients waiting for treatment, and, according to the chief exec, over 350 of these have waited longer than my constituent who—just listen to this—was referred for double knee replacement in November 2017, long before our pandemic, Minister. So, whilst acknowledging the pressure caused by COVID-19 and welcoming the news that a new post-anaesthesia care unit has opened at Ysbyty Gwynedd, the evidence is clear that orthopaedic treatment is in crisis here in north Wales. So, please advise what steps you are taking to help facilitate more day-case and in-patient surgery, and whether consideration can be given to increasing the health board's partnership with English trusts, and coming to an arrangement with more than just two, for patients to be offered their surgery outside of this health board. Thank you.

I think there are several things there. The first is to acknowledge that there was already a challenge with orthopaedic delivery in north Wales before the pandemic. We were seeing an increase in activity in north Wales, but it wasn't keeping pace with demand coming in, so lists were broadly getting longer on orthopaedic treatment. That is undeniable.

The second point is that, during the pandemic, though, that has been exacerbated even further. As Members will be aware, there's been significant interruption of normal care and treatment, so the orthopaedic waiting list has grown even further over the course of the pandemic, not just in north Wales, but across the whole country. Our challenge is how we get to a sustainable system and how we deal with the big backlog that has built up as well. With respect, I don't think that partnerships with NHS trusts in England are likely to address the backlog or a sustainable service. The reason for that is that, actually, the system within England needs to get to a point where it is more in balance as well. We won't be able to buy our way through this by undertaking more activity in the private sector alone. We are going to need to have a proper approach that I think is consistent with NHS values here in Wales.

It's worth reflecting that England also have a significant increase in their orthopaedic waiting lists; there isn't going to be capacity in the NHS in England for us to make use of for some time to come. So, that means we need to find an approach here in Wales that understands the nature of our challenge, how we get to a sustainable part of our system and, at the same time, how, as to staff who are going to be exhausted when the pandemic crisis finally ends, we actually generate even more activity to deal with the backlog. This is not a straightforward challenge to address, and we'll need to move beyond a simplistic 'just work harder' or 'spend more money'. We're going to need to have some innovation in the way that our NHS continues to run a public service that delivers against the enormous challenges that confront it.  

14:05

As said by the previous two speakers, Minister, waiting lists are at levels that we haven't seen for years. Many on those waiting lists before too long will end up being emergency admissions after their quality of life has been obliterated by pain and disability. Constituents report a very patchy and hit-and-miss non-COVID health service across the region, which suggests that we are facing a very different sort of crisis for the NHS, but a crisis nonetheless. You've said there's a plan, that you have a plan. When will we see this plan to scrutinise it, and when will it possibly start to be implemented? Thank you. 

As I said, we're expecting to publish an NHS recovery plan before the end of March. I'd want Members to be able to see that plan before we move into the election period. I think that's the right thing to do. But more than that, in terms of then seeing that activity recovering, that really depends on the course of the pandemic. When we've still got critical care units that are at 115 per cent of their capacity, when we still have significant numbers of COVID patients in our hospitals, it isn't reasonable to expect the NHS to regenerate the same level of normal elective activity that we were used to more than a year ago.

We also, of course, have the additional PPE requirements that Jayne Bryant was referring to—PPE delivery—in her first question. That means that we can't undertake as much activity in the same day. So, we have a number of real handicaps for the NHS about keeping our staff and people safe whilst undertaking activity. So, this will be difficult. The plan, as I say—the recovery plan—you can expect it to be published before the end of March. Of course, the pandemic will help to determine when we can start to deliver some of this, as well as the work that our NHS organisations are already undertaking for planning and delivering that further activity. 

The Vaccination Programme

4. Will the Minister make a statement on how the vaccination programme is progressing in Alyn and Deeside? OQ56298

Thank you. We met our first milestone to offer vaccination to those in JCVI priority groups 1 to 4 by mid February. We are in the fortunate position of being the first UK country to do so. We are making good progress towards the next milestone, which is, subject to supply, to offer vaccination to groups 5 to 9 by the middle of April. Within Alyn and Deeside, I'm pleased to say that all GP practices are helping to deliver our successful vaccination programme.

Thank you for that answer, Minister, and the important information within it. I'm sure you'll agree with me that Members of the Senedd have a responsibility to act as leaders in their community, and since the start of the vaccination programme I have sought, through my 'let's vaccinate Flintshire' campaign, to work with the health board and to work with the Welsh Government to assist and support the roll-out where I can. Now, other Members of this Chamber had a lot to say in the first few days, almost demanding to know why the population hadn't been vaccinated immediately. Now, for some time, under the brilliant leadership of our First Minister, Mark Drakeford, Wales has led the way in the United Kingdom and across Europe, and these critics in the early days have gone silent. Minister, do you agree with me that we all have a role to play in publicly congratulating and encouraging everyone involved in the vaccination programme?

14:10

Yes, I do. I think it's really important that everyone, regardless of their politics, recognises the fantastic success that Wales's vaccination programme represents. The hard work, the dedication, the skill and the expertise of our staff, partners in the military, local government and the voluntary sector have demonstrated that the first few weeks, when we did have a slower rate of delivery than other UK nations, were well used to plan for our ability to go at a much quicker rate. That's why we are at the top of the four-nations table at this point in time for the overall percentage of the population who have had their vaccine and for the numbers of adults who have had their vaccine as well, and I look forward to a further successful roll-out in groups 5 to 9, and then for the rest of the adult population. I hope that those people who were critical will now give their full support and recognise the credit for this Government and our fantastic national health service for the amazing success that the vaccination programme represents for Wales.

The national vaccination strategy to 14 February included care home staff, but Care Forum Wales stated last week that the decision by Flintshire County Council to base care home fees on paying half the staff the minimum wage is an affront to care workers who put their own lives on the line and have heroically done their utmost to protect their residents from the deadly coronavirus pandemic. Responding, Flintshire council told me, 'This is not a local issue and we work to regional funding formulas in the allocation of funding, and we mutually agreed the annual uplifts with commissioning providers.' Responding to this, however, Care Forum Wales told me, 'I don't believe you'll find a single independent care home provider who would agree that Flintshire's 2021-22 fees uplift has been mutually agreed with providers.' How do you therefore respond to their question why, when every shred of evidence shows that the dependency of residents in care homes during the last 20 years, and particularly the last year, has increased significantly, north Wales fees have gone from the top of the league and now occupy the relegation zone?

Well, I'm robustly confident that follow-up question has nothing to do with the success of the vaccination programme in Alyn and Deeside, but, as you'll know, this Government is committed to a longer term future to revise not just the way the social care sector is organised but how we fund it, how we reward our staff. I look forward to all parties putting forward their alternative ways to properly fund social care in the future within the next manifestos we will all put before the people of Wales. I look forward to returning to this Chamber before the end of the term to give an update on the work of the inter-ministerial group on paying for care, and I look forward to Conservative Members finding new ways to put extra resources into our social care system as opposed to demanding extra resource without ever identifying where that money should come from.

Health Visitors

5. Will the Minister make a statement regarding the deployment of health visitors in Wales? OQ56331

Yes. The Welsh Government provided guidance on the delivery of the Healthy Child Wales programme by health visitors during the pandemic, to ensure that children are safe and seen and that families are supported as far as possible. We are aware that health visitors may have redeployed to other acute areas, if workforce numbers allowed, at the height of the pandemic. My understanding is that this is not currently the case.

Thank you for that response. I have raised this question on a few occasions because I conducted a survey of new mothers during the pandemic, where they raised numerous concerns about their access to health visitors during this important time. But I understand, yesterday, after having met with the Minister for mental health—and thank you again for that meeting—as you said, Minister, that some actually were deployed during the first stages of the pandemic but now have returned to their role. We were also told, though, that due to some of the profiles of those members of staff, many have been shielding or many have been off on sick leave. So, I am curious to understand how you are going to protect the service for the future and give them the relevant level of support that this vital service needs. It's a lifeline to many new parents—mothers who are seeking that initial advice and that support at the beginning of a baby's life.

I think there are several points to make there. The first is that, in terms of the longer term future, that is partly about our investment in the future of the workforce, and the Member will know that we have sought to significantly increase the number of health visitors in training and then to maintain them in the service as well. This will be a challenge for the whole service, looking forward, because we do anticipate that some members of staff may want to change NHS careers. We'll need to keep people in the service. That's why, again, Jayne Bryant's first questions about well-being and support services for paramedics are just as relevant for health visitors and everyone else right across health and social care.

The second point that I think is important to make is that it's not just from a Government policy point of view about recognising the importance of health visitors—so, our investment in the future Flying Start relies on having high-quality health visitors in good numbers, who are motivated and I've been very proud of the work they're doing—but also from a personal point of view. I remember very well the impact that the health visitor had when we had our child as well; it does make a real difference. So, having those people redeployed back to their roles all across the country is hugely important, and then to think again about how we take care of our current workforce, because the future of the NHS is already here in large number—the workers in 10 years are almost all already with us in terms of overall numbers—but also making sure that we continue to train and have a new generation of health visitors coming in in the right numbers, and in a way where their roles will change in the support they are well placed to provide because of the trusted relationship that most health visitors build up with the women and the families that they work with. So, there are challenges ahead, but I think that not just this Government but any future Government will remain committed to the future of our health visiting service in the right numbers, with the right skills.

14:15
Asymptomatic Workplace Testing

6. What plans does the Minister have to roll out asymptomatic workplace testing in Wales? OQ56326

Thank you. In our revised testing strategy, we have set out our plans to support asymptomatic testing in workplaces in order to safeguard the vulnerable, and to maintain key services. I have confirmed today the wider roll-out of asymptomatic workplace testing for employers of more than 50 people. 

Thank you, Minister. The aerospace sector is worth more than £1.4 billion in Wales and employs over 11,000 workers, including many people from Torfaen. However, it has also been very badly hit by the COVID pandemic, and those workplaces may well not have either the resources or the ability to undertake their own workplace testing. What assurances can you give that the new strategy you published today will prioritise workplaces like this that we really need to retain for high-quality, highly skilled jobs in Wales?

I think the fourth element of the testing strategy, testing to maintain, will be relevant here. And we recognise that, not just those larger employers with 50 or more employees, but in particular, those employees who can't work from home who may still need to work in closer proximity with others are ones we want to prioritise. I think that, actually, not just your own employer that you're referencing, but more broadly in the sector, this should help those businesses. And we're looking to have an approach with the guidance that we've published not just to make that testing more widely available, but to have an approach that brings both the employer and workplace trade unions together to have a shared understanding of how that testing will be used, how it will be administered and how it will protect the business and the jobs and, of course, the health of the whole workforce, with the early warning that it will give with lateral flow devices with a rapid test result and then the ability to have the expectation of a confirmatory PCR test result if someone does test positive. I think this is good news, and I hope that the business in your constituency takes up the offer and talks to their local team about how to access these tests and how to do so in a way that has the support of the workforce as well.

Minister, I just wonder if you could give us some indication of what's been learnt from trying to carry out tests in schools. Because, as I've mentioned before, in my region, certainly, there was at one point a definite disconnect between school staff and NHS leads about who should take responsibility for the administration of lateral flow tests. So, I'm wondering, can you give us an indication now about who should take a lead in the workplace—and that's whichever sector we're talking about? And how will workers who cannot or will not take a test be deployed?

Well, your second question is really a matter for employers, that's why it's important that they work that through with their workplace representatives, including, crucially, trade unions. Because the tests are there as a tool to help protect the workforce, to help us to have early warning of those people who don't have symptoms. And as we understand it, about a third of people don't display classic symptoms, but nevertheless do have coronavirus. We also know that lateral flow tests have quick results, but also, they're not as accurate as a PCR test—that's why anyone who tests positive should then get themselves tested with a PCR test as well, but they need to go home and isolate from the point they test positive with a lateral flow test. As we're seeing a reduction in transmission and prevalence of the virus, the accuracy of the lateral flow tests—I think that second test with PCR is even more important then as well.

Then, when it comes to how to administer the tests, part of the offer for businesses is about the training on the undertaking of those tests as well. We're not going to be in a position to have healthcare workers going in and administering the level of tests we're providing. The current tests we've made available to early years and education and health and care will amount to about a quarter of a million tests being delivered each week. We don't now have healthcare staff to deliver all of these tests. We've had to have approval from the regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, on how tests can be undertaken by individuals, but the training to undertake those, to make sure they're taken appropriately, is really important.

We accept that in providing it this way it's the same challenge that every other UK country faces too, but even if we accept that not every test will be taken in the optimum manner, we will identify a range of people who are asymptomatic whom we would not otherwise have identified. It will help to take positive cases that would not otherwise be identified out of workplaces and out of circulation. The self-isolation will help to reduce the transmission of the virus.

So, there is no pretence that this is a perfect, error-free approach, either in Wales or any other part of the UK, but it is part of reducing the prevalence of the virus and getting more people to self-isolate appropriately to reduce the harm, economically and in healthcare terms, that coronavirus has caused. 

14:20
Dental Services

7. Will the Minister make a statement on the delivery of dental services in the Hywel Dda University Health Board area? OQ56306

We continue to implement a safe, phased re‑establishment of NHS dental services. Dental practices are now providing a full range of treatments for patients. As COVID-19 is still in circulation, public health measures remain necessary to ensure a safe environment. This will mean that fewer patients are treated in each clinical session.

Minister, as I know you're aware, I've been contacted by local dentists in my constituency who are frustrated at the lack of support that they've received during the pandemic, as they've incurred substantial costs in order to treat local patients and help offset a potential crisis in oral health by providing vital care to local people.

I know that we've corresponded on this matter a few times over the last few months, and I appreciate from your latest letter that health boards have the flexibility to pay NHS contractors 80 per cent to 100 per cent of their annual dental contract value. But, clearly, from the discussions I'm having with dentists, that doesn't seem to be the case.

Given that it's important to ensure that dentists can survive during this pandemic, and if health boards have the flexibility to support dentists as just mentioned, what discussions has the Welsh Government had with Hywel Dda University Health Board about this issue in order to ensure that there is consistency across the whole of Wales? Can you also tell us what the Welsh Government is doing to protect the sustainability of the sector for the future, so that people who need treatment are able to access it in their local communities?

I think there are several different things there. The first is that there's a distinction between NHS dental services and those that are wholly private-run practices as well. There's a point about business support for private practices, but operating within a process and procedure that take account of the health and safety of both the patient as well as staff members. That goes back into earlier questions about employers doing the right thing as well.

When it comes to NHS practices, it would probably be better if I can write to you about the approach that Hywel Dda are taking, their conversations with the chief dental officer's office and how the flexibility to provide support for NHS dental services is being delivered, because I do know you've got concerns that have come to you from people delivering dental services within the area.FootnoteLink

On the further support we've provided, we have, of course, provided ventilation funding support to help make sure that improved ventilation has allowed a further range of activity to be undertaken. On the longer term future, we are looking to continue with our contract reform programme. So, we know that the significant changes in contracts have been broadly welcomed by the dental service, with about 40 per cent of all practices being part of the reform programme before it was suspended prior to the pandemic.

So, we do have a significant contract reform programme to return to once the pandemic is over, and that should mean we have a longer term and more sustainable way of delivering the service, in terms of the financial envelope we have to do so, but also in terms of the value that dental services will provide to the patient in the new way of working that, as I say, has the broad support of dental practitioners.

14:25
The Delivery of The COVID-19 Vaccine for Priority Groups 6 To 9

8. Will the Minister provide an update on the delivery of the COVID-19 vaccine for priority groups 6 to 9 in Wales as set out by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation? OQ56312

Having met our target to offer vaccination to JCVI priority groups 1 to 4 by mid February, we are making good progress in delivering vaccines to groups 5-9. Not only are we making good progress already, but today you'll be aware that the JCVI issued some updated advice in respect of group 6 for people with a learning disability. I expect to publish guidance later today, for both people with learning disabilities and indeed for unpaid carers, to clarify how they will be invited and how they will receive their vaccines within priority group 6.  

As a parent of a child with a learning disability, I declare an interest and welcome that decision. You've said the guidance, you're going to publish today, but the key issue that unpaid carers are asking me is: how will they be called? And I understand, if you could clarify, that will be in the guidance. Can you give us, here in this Senedd, the chance to explain—? Can I give you the chance to explain how those unpaid carers will be called for vaccination?

So, we've worked with national carers organisations to try to set out and explain how we go beyond the very narrow initial view that the JCVI provided about people in receipt of carers benefits. I think the JCVI guidance looked at a system in England primarily about the identification of carers on GP lists. We've had a different approach here in Wales, you'll be aware, with our carers legislation. So, if people have undertaken carers assessments, the local authorities will have an idea who those people are. We'll also have people who won't have undertaken a formal carers assessment who won't be on a list anywhere, but are undertaking unpaid carer duties. So, we're looking to have an understanding of how we understand who those people are and how we gather that information for the Welsh immunisation system to send out their appointments. We haven't followed the approach that England are taking by having people contact their GPs to go on a register. I think that would have the real risk of overwhelming hard-pressed general practice if unpaid carers were told to contact their GP. So, we've worked with national carers organisations to try to identify who those carers are, and to make sure that that information can then be provided to the Welsh immunisation system. I think the guidance will set out more clearly what that's going to look like to provide the clarity for people who I know have wanted to know how they will access the vaccination that is important for them and, crucially, for the person that they're caring for, and the potential risk of COVID getting to that carer, and what that means for the vulnerable person that they look after. So, later today I need to sign that off once I've finished questions, and that should then be able to go out later this afternoon.

You can go and sign it off now, Minister. That's the end of your questions for this afternoon.

3. Questions to the Minister for Mental Health, Wellbeing and Welsh Language

So, the next questions are questions to the Minister for Mental Health, Well-being and Welsh Language, and the first question is from Jack Sargeant.

Mental Health Support

1. Will the Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's priorities for mental health support? OQ56299

Diolch. Our immediate priority is to work with partners to respond to changing mental health needs due to the pandemic. Our revised 'Together for Mental Health' delivery plan 2019-22 sets out a range of specific actions, supported by the additional £42 million for mental health in our draft budget to support this.

Thank you for that answer, Minister. Now, we know that serious traumatic incidents can have a serious impact on long-term mental health, and I have raised with you before my concerns that we are not reaching people who perhaps do not seek help through the normal prescribed routes, and I should say that is through no fault of their own. So, with that in mind, how do we proactively support people in my own constituency who have suffered the recent trauma of flooding, and may not even recognise or spot the signs that they are in need of support?

Thanks very much for, Jack, and just to make it clear that I'm very aware that actually those kinds of traumas that impact people's lives is something that has come across to me very clearly during my time in this post. And it is something that won't come and go; it's something that can last for a long time. So, a trauma-informed approach to mental health is absolutely central to what we need to be doing. I know when it came to the flooding in the Pontypridd area that Mick Antoniw wrote a report, and I was very pleased to be able to get in touch on that issue with the health authority to make sure that they were providing some support there. I did the same thing for Dai Rees when there was a flooding incident in his area. And, of course, I'd be very happy to do the same for you.

But I think it's probably worth pointing out that, in relation to Natural Resources Wales, they have sent out to all communities a newsletter, and they have put in that newsletter a call centre number—our call helpline—and a number for them to contact Mind, in addition to of course those people who are younger perhaps, that they should be contacting Meic, which is our support centre for younger people. So we have encouraged health boards also to make sure that they work with local agencies to ensure that there is access to these services. But if there are any specific issues you want me to take up, I'd be more than happy to do that, Jack, as I've done for others.

14:30

Afternoon, Minister. Minister, do you think it's possible for us to do more—for Welsh Government to do more—to reach out to people suffering, or potentially suffering, from mental health issues in rural areas? As I sit here now, by the wonder of Zoom, I can see through the window passers-by walking by in my village. But I spoke to a constituent earlier who lives in one of the more deeper rural areas of my constituency, and she hasn't seen a passer-by for months, due to pandemic restrictions. So, it just seems to me that there are people out there who perhaps aren't being reached out to as much as they could be. I know that your strategy on mental health has been looking at ways that we can reach out to these people, so could you give a particular emphasis on mental health in rural areas?

Thanks very much, Nick. And I'll be doing a speech on this very issue in the St David's festival that'll be taking place in the next couple of weeks. So, I'm very happy to be giving this issue some attention, because I do think that there are slightly different issues when it comes to mental health in rural areas, in particular for middle-aged men. So, very often, what we find is that they don't particularly want to go to GPs, for example, because everybody knows each other in these areas. So, whilst in cities the issue very often is the lack of connection, there is, very often, a connection in rural areas where everybody knows each other's business and sometimes they don't want people to know that business.

The other thing I've been doing is liaising very extensively with a lot of the farming communities. I'm very aware that there is a particular issue in the farming community, where of course a lot of people are used to working alone—and of course we're all going through a lot of the experiences that farmers have had to put up with for years and years and years. But there is a particular issue there that I think we need to focus on as well. But I absolutely agree that we need to make sure that those measures are in place. Of course, they're able to access the services that everybody else can access, in terms of call centres, online support, but I am very aware that there is an older community that may want that face-to-face support. And of course, we'll be looking to make sure that, when we come out of this very strict lockdown period, there will be opportunities through our increase in funding to the third sector, that there will be facilities for them to access there.

Question 2, to be answered by the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism, and to be asked by Huw Irranca-Davies.

Domestic Camping And Caravan Sites

2. What assessment has the Minister made of whether the demand for domestic camping and caravan sites with COVID-safe facilities in Wales can be met in spring/summer 2021? OQ56302

Thank you very much for such a timely question, Huw. We continually engage with the sector—all tourism sectors, in fact—through the tourism taskforce, which meets on a weekly basis, and the next meeting is to be held this coming Friday. And we also of course have the four regional forums in place. And the tourism barometer will be published early next month, and I do want to ensure that the necessary information about the demand for camping and domestic caravans is recognised as something that is crucially important at this point.

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Gweinidog. Thank you so much for that answer. I think you will recognise that many people from working families in our communities will not be rushing off for extravagant holidays overseas this year—they will be looking for cheap and cheerful but good open-air opportunities in domestic tourism. And it's an opportunity, in fact, to make sure that our tourism providers in all parts of Wales, who have struggled over the last year, get a welcome shot in the arm—not the vaccination, but a shot in the arm economically—but also so that some of those families can get to these sites.

Now, in those discussions, Minister, I wonder if you could raise the question with some of the smaller operators, particularly, of camping and caravanning sites, of whether they have sufficient COVID-safe facilities, because I know from experience last year that some of the smaller sites were unable to open because they didn't have simple things such as the ability to provide showers for people to stay overnight and do it COVID-safely and so on. Very simple. So, it might be that there's some scope there maybe even for some grant in aid or soft loans to enable some of the smaller sites as well in parts of Wales to open up. 

14:35

Diolch, Huw. I'm very much taken by that suggestion, and, indeed, Visit Wales is already working on the lessons learned from last year's reopening with the local authorities to see what we can do. There are interesting and difficult planning issues, of course. The 28-day rule already allows landowners to use land for tented camping only without formal planning permission, but I'm very keen that we should look again—this is a matter obviously to be discussed with my colleague, the planning Minister—at the way we can make our planning system both environmentally sound, but also open to the demand that will arise for the use of the open air and the countryside.

Minister, I listened very carefully to your answer to Huw Irranca-Davies there. As you will know, in Conwy and Denbighshire here, we rely heavily on tourism as an industry, and we have amongst the very best holiday caravan sites and campsites in the whole of the United Kingdom. They tell me that it's very important that they have a clear understanding of when they will be able to reopen again, and, clearly, if there is going to be a phased reopening, it does need to be cognisant of the fact that many people are owners of the caravans on those individual sites and will want to avail themselves of the facilities that they are paying for. So, can you tell us today what your estimation is of the dates on which these holiday caravan parks in particular will be able to reopen their businesses, to give some security to those caravan owners, and the site owners, about the ability to enjoy their holidays once again here in Wales?

Well, I think you will know from other occasions when I've spoken about this that I am the last person to ask about dates where public health issues are involved, because, clearly, as a Government, we've taken a very firm line that everything we do has to be within the context of public health. I'm aware that our neighbouring Government in England has decided to announce dates. Welsh Government will not be announcing dates, and I certainly don't intend to announce this afternoon any dates. But I will certainly take on board your point that we should make sure that all our businesses who provide such a valuable way of enjoying the Welsh countryside, as is provided by the caravan and camping sites—that all these businesses are informed in good time when opening will happen. 

Minister, the 'Visit Wales. Later' slogan was used to great effect last year. Those using caravans in Wales are often people, as Darren said, who own their own, and coming to Wales feels, for them, like coming home. I'm deeply concerned though about the anti-English, anti-incomer rhetoric used in Wales, and also in Scotland. It has been noticed by a lot of caravan owners, and they're saying that they really don't feel that they're welcome and they're thinking of leaving lock, stock and barrel. Will you condemn such rhetoric, and give an assurance that, once it is safe to do so, visitors will receive the warm welcome that they have come to expect over the years? Thank you. 

Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

Questions now by the party spokespeople. The Conservative spokesperson, David Melding. 

Diolch yn fawr, Cadeirydd. Minister, you'd have heard in our joint session with the Youth Parliament the emphasis they place on well-being and good mental health. Many of them will soon be entering the workforce, so I'd like to ask what plans are in place, as we move towards the end of the lockdown, to support workplaces that promote well-being and good mental health.

14:40

Thank you very much, David. I can assure you that we've put a lot of work into—. In particular, when we come to the workforce who are on the front line, we've made sure that we've put a lot of protection in place for them, but we've gone much further than that when it comes to Working Wales. So, we have a programme, Working Wales. I think about 35 per cent of businesses and public sector areas, they have signed up to this, and they have made a commitment to really stand by their workforce to make sure they get rid of the stigma relating to mental health, and they are adapting what is happening in that space in relation to COVID. So, I'm very pleased to see that that's happening. 

And, of course, the other thing we've done is we've continued to fund Time to Change, which is very different from what's been done in England, unfortunately. I think it was a huge mistake on the part of the Conservative Government to cut the funding for Time to Change just in the middle of a pandemic. It was a real shame, because, actually, the one thing that we've done in this pandemic is we've talked about mental health in a way that has now become absolutely accepted. Everybody understands that it is a societal issue that we all have to take seriously, and I'm very pleased to see that happening, and that support in the workplace is absolutely really being driven alongside that project that we have in the Welsh Government. 

Well, Minister, I commend the change in attitude that's taken. I speak as someone who has for many years—in fact, throughout my service here—worked with a mental health condition. And would you commend, as I do, charities like Mind, and in particular Mind's workplace well-being index? That's a key tool, it seems to me, for healthy workplaces. 

I do want to shift focus now. As many people have been dislocated from their jobs—they've been on furlough for long periods of time, and alas some have now lost their jobs and they suffer the stress triggered by isolation. As unemployment rates are predicted to climb, though I know we did see a recent fall—and let's hope that continues, but the prediction is that unemployment will increase in the next year or so—what measures will be in place to promote mental health and well-being resilience in training and back-to-work programmes?  

Thanks very much, David. I think, just to pay tribute to the incredible work that Mind has been doing over the years, and we're very pleased to be funding Mind to really run lots of the projects that we're involved with in Wales—. And I pay tribute in particular to Sara Moseley, who will be leaving the organisation in the next few weeks, for all the work she's done with us in recent years.

Of course, mental health and well-being in the workplace is something that we all have to take very seriously. I do think that dislocation that you talk about is something that we have to take seriously. I'm very interested at the moment—. I'm reading a book about Johann Hari about lost connections, and I do think that that's something that we need to understand. It's the connectivity that is so important when it comes to mental health. 

The one thing that I can assure you, David, is that we, as a Government, are very aware that this is not just a health issue, that actually the relationship between mental health and socioeconomic issues is absolutely one and the same. And we are really fearful of a possible downturn when it comes to the economy and the potential increase that that may cause in terms of mental health issues. And that's why we're working very closely with organisations across Wales who give support in that space to make sure that, when we're giving advice when it comes to employment, we're also making sure that we are giving advice and pointing out where people can go to for advice when it comes to mental health services. So, I'm very pleased to see that, and I would encourage people to make sure they call our call helpline or access our online facility, SilverCloud. 

Well, thank you for that answer, Minister. I do think there will be a lot of work to do in various training and back-to-work programmes in the future, because many people have suffered real trauma in the way they have been forced to leave the workplace or their traditional work has been taken away from them. 

My final question, however, is that COVID has changed also the patterns of work, sometimes permanently, it seems to me, and we've seen this in much of the public sector. And I just wonder how the Welsh Government will ensure that, as the civil service and public agencies shift to greater home working, for instance, this does not reduce the level of support and constructive supervision needed to maintain good mental health and well-being in the workplace. We've seen a societal shift in this area, it seems to me, but it is one that needs careful management if we are to have maximum well-being.

14:45

Thanks very much, David. Absolutely, that pattern of working has, I think, changed forever; I don't think we'll be going back to the patterns that we had before and certainly, as a Welsh Government, we've got a commitment now to work towards that 30 per cent of the workforce working from home. So, that's a significant shift. And you're absolutely right: just because people are working from home, it doesn't mean that they don't need support. In fact, they may need more support because they are less connected. So, we are making sure, certainly from a Welsh Government point of view, that we're offering that support. What's really heartened me, though, is that the private sector have really started to understand this now. They've understood that, actually, when it comes to their workforce, their productivity is going to decrease if people have mental health issues and that's why they are putting support in place as well. 

I was very pleased to meet up recently with a group of employers from the private sector, who are really focusing on this issue, making sure that the kind of support that they're putting in place for their workers is really listening to the requirements that people are asking for. So, I do think that we also have to be sensitive to the fact that, actually, there may be people who find it very uncomfortable to work from home. You think about some people, in particular, maybe in domestic abuse settings, it may be very, very difficult for them. So, we need to make sure that we keep these lines of communication open for people and provide that option to get back to an office, if that is the way that they want to go in future.

Thank you, Llywydd. Will the Minister outline what steps the Welsh Government has taken to secure access to mental health services during the pandemic?

Well, we have ensured that that access is available and that it's still seen as something that is an essential service within the NHS. Of course, demand for services has increased during that period and that's why we have provided far more funding into this particular area. We've provided an additional £1.5 million to target that help at help in our communities, through the third sector. And I think, for me, that's a new emphasis that we must provide in order to take the pressure off the NHS, wherever possible, and to provide that care where it will be more sustainable in the longer term, within the community. 

I'm of course pleased to hear the Minister say that services and access to services are crucial. We're all agreed on that, but it's true that many people are having difficulty accessing the support that they need. If you look at Stats Wales data, we see that the numbers referred to mental health services at a local level reduced by over a quarter in the nine months to December, as compared to the previous year. The number of assessments fell by around a quarter too and the number of therapeutic interventions fell by 10 per cent in the same period. So, although we are hearing that these are crucial services, there are too many people who can't access them. So, what additional steps can the Welsh Government take in order to ensure that people who need that support can access it?

Thank you. The data published today does demonstrate that we have only just missed our target of 80 per cent of assessments being carried out—I think it was 78 per cent that we reached. So, I do think that it's positive that we were able to reach that level although there had been a huge increase in demand. One thing that concerns me is that the data refers to those under the age of 18 and that's below target and that's something that's concerning, but of course we've put a number of measures in place to provide far more support within our schools. And, of course, in the summer, we will be rolling out a new system where there will be early intervention in order to support young people. So, I do very much hope that we will be focusing on those, particularly young people, as 80 per cent of mental health problems, as we know, start among the under-18s.

14:50

Well, I'm pleased that you referred to young people, because, as you said, the stats demonstrate that young people do suffer more. And we know that the pandemic has had a very grave impact on the mental health of people and that young people have suffered more than anyone. Early access to care for young people is particularly important in trying to prevent problems from becoming more acute in the longer term, and that's why we in Plaid Cymru are talking about having this network of well-being centres for young people, where they can access mental health support immediately.

Now, you've referred to the data, but will you commit to looking in detail as to how we can make sure that that data is changed the next time it's published, and put a very clear plan in place that will note what support should be available and how that could be accessed, and also ensure, in addition to the additional funding allocated over the past 12 months, that mental health services, in primary care specifically, are given the resources necessary in order to cope with the demand now and in the future?

Thank you, Rhun. Well, of course, the figures that came from that survey conducted by the children's commissioner raised major concerns for us, the fact that 67 per cent of children between 12 and 18 had said that they felt sad some of the time or all of the time, and of course that is a cause of great concern to us. That is why we have targeted much of our work over the past few months in this area, and I want to pay tribute to the children and young people's committee that has done so much work in this area and have assisted us in terms of our direction of travel.

I do think that the additional support and the additional funding that will be provided to assist in schools—and I do hope that that will help—but we must ensure that that does link up with the early help and enhanced support. So, a new framework will be put in place in the summer in order to ensure that we do co-ordinate the offer available in school and the offer available within our communities, not necessarily through the NHS, because I'm very keen to ensure that we do use the third sector to assist us in this area too.

The Mental Health of the NHS and Social Care Workforce

3. What action is the Welsh Government taking to support the mental health of the NHS and social care workforce during the pandemic? OQ56313

Well, I'd like to pay tribute for the real interest that Jayne Bryant has shown in this issue. I know she's just just asked the question to the health Minister on a similar subject, and I think it's absolutely right to focus on this. The Welsh Government fully recognises the incredible physical and emotional demands faced by our NHS and social care workforce, and we're really closely monitoring the impact and working with partners, to provide immediate additional support to respond to people’s changing mental health needs.

Thank you very much for that answer, Minister. Last month, I was able to hold a short debate to highlight the pressure on our front-line NHS and social care staff and what they've experienced over the last year. I was privileged to read out some powerful and emotive statements from nurses, theatre assistants, paramedics and practitioners about the realities of facing the virus. Staff are exhausted, both mentally and physically, and many have feelings of grief and guilt. It's clear that the consequences of COVID will be felt by those on the front line for many years to come. It's likely to have a legacy of mental health issues and people questioning whether they still want to, or are able to, stay in the job because of burnout. What steps can the Welsh Government take to target support on our NHS and social care workforce so that we do all we can to look after those who care for us?

Thanks very much, Jayne. I must say that I'm very pleased that we've been able to give an extra £1 million to enhance the support of the programme that we have, Health for Health Professionals Wales, and that psychological support, which includes a helpline. The Samaritans are there specifically to help people; there is a doctor who will be able to ring back within 24 hours. And what's really great is that we know that there's been a really good response to this provision.

Since that debate, I've been fortunate enough to meet the Royal College of Nursing and they were very clearly trying to outline to me the kind of trauma that people on the front line have been undergoing, and they know that's not trauma you can tuck away, that is something—. They haven't had a chance to process what they've gone through on the front line, and they're very aware that when it comes to this programme of intensity that they're going through at the moment, when they have time to process that, that's when the impact may hit them. And so they were very keen to emphasise that whatever we're putting in place now will not be able to be taken away, because that longer term trauma that we really have to consider, we will have to make sure that we are giving that support for the longer term, so I'm very pleased to see that. I'm very pleased to see also that the Royal College of General Practitioners have responded very positively also to the support we give to Health for Health Professionals Wales.

14:55

Minister, Jayne Bryant and I only heard this morning in health committee about the mental health impact on nursing staff, and the absolute need for them to have a chance to rest and recuperate. And so many are putting in long hours way above and beyond what they should be doing as they feel the responsibility to do so, but they need respite and looking after themselves. But, as well as this, and as part of NHS England's response, they've created hubs. These hubs are free of charge and offer confidential advice and support to NHS staff who, over the last year, have cared for millions of people with coronavirus, whilst keeping vital services like maternity, mental health and cancer care going. Minister, will you commit to studying these measures to see whether similar action could benefit NHS staff here in Wales? Thank you.

Thanks very much, Laura. Well, we don't set up these programmes without consulting with people to ask them what it is that they want, what it is that is meaningful and useful to them. One of the groups that I've been speaking to—. One of the issues, of course, is we've put a lot of support in place, but I was hearing that some people simply don't have time to access that support. So, if they come in in the morning, they feel like they've got to hold it together to do their work during the day, and by the end of their shift they just want to collapse. So, when is it that they can have that support that we're offering them? So, you're absolutely right: we need to make sure that there is some space to allow people to access that support when it's right for them. Of course, we do have alternatives; we've got online support that they can access as well. But I think we're going to have to think very carefully, when we see a reduction in the numbers in relation to the virus, despite the pressures that we've heard of from Angela earlier today—how many people are waiting—we really have to think about looking after those front-line staff and making sure that they do get some kind of break. I think we're going to have to ask the Welsh public to be a little bit patient, just to give these people time to breathe so that they can really get on with their work, because the last thing we want is to see these people leave the NHS.

'Cymraeg 2050'

4. Will the Minister provide an update on progress towards achieving the objectives set out in Cymraeg 2050? OQ56311

Thank you very much, Vikki. Since launching 'Cymraeg 2050', the narrative around the language has changed considerably. We must build on this new momentum in order to ensure more access to Welsh-medium education, and we need to open more early years settings in addition to the 40 planned for opening. We also need to continue to provide exciting opportunities for people to hear and to use the language.

Diolch, Minister. Recent figures have shown that Rhondda Cynon Taf has the most pupils being taught through the medium of Welsh of all council areas in the Central South Consortium area, with just under 19 per cent of learners. Huge strides are being been made to improve the Welsh-medium offer in Cynon Valley still further through the Welsh Government's twenty-first century schools programme, with Ysgol Gyfun Rhydywaun being awarded £12.1 million for an expansion, which will allow it to accommodate an additional 187 pupils, and Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Aberdar being the recipient of £4.5 million, which will enable it to offer an additional 48 places. Minister, how are you working with colleagues in the Welsh Government and our partners in local government to improve the provision and the take-up of Welsh-medium education?

15:00

Thank you very much, Vikki. First of all, I want to pay tribute to the excellent work that they do in the council in Rhondda. It's incredible, the way that people have taken the opportunity to learn the language, and it's good to see that 19 per cent are already receiving their education through the medium of Welsh. But, of course, over the next few years, we need to see an increase in those numbers too, and that is why we as a Government have provided enhanced capital funding to ensure that the schools are available to assist with those projects. There will be an expectation that RCT, over the next 10 years, will increase those numbers to around 27 per cent of the population. Of course, in order to do that, we must ensure that there is a pipeline of those younger children coming through, and that's why we're always focused initially on increasing the numbers attending nursery provision, so that then they follow that route to Welsh-medium education. I very much hope that we will see that increase. It is incredible to see that difference, and I'm very pleased that we as a Welsh Government have been able to provide that additional funding, and also increase capacity at Dolau school. There are some ideas too in terms of changing the category of Penderyn school so it becomes a Welsh-medium school too. So, I hope that this will all lead to a huge celebration in this area when the Eisteddfod comes in 2024.

I'm sure the former head of Penderyn school will be very pleased to hear that news. Minister, what consideration have you given to establishing a digital fund for the Welsh language to support more use of everyday Welsh in the digital sphere? As you know, I'm eager to see everyday Welsh being normalised in day-to-day communication. It's a language for everyone, not just for some communities or some roles within the public sector, and, of course, the digital world is an increasingly important part of our daily lives. The Welsh Conservatives will include something of this kind in our manifesto to encourage, support and facilitate the use of Welsh online, and I hope you would agree with that idea.

We not only agree, Suzy, but we have a programme for Welsh and technology that is already in place. I provided an update on this just before Christmas to show just how far we've gone with that technology plan. It's become quite clear during the pandemic that we need to understand that our society has moved to a great extent online, and we must acknowledge that we need to consider the Welsh language in those discussions as to how we communicate online. That's why we've been pushing Microsoft, for example, to see if they can do more to ensure that we can use the Welsh language on Teams. They have now said that they are eager to see those developments, and we hope that will be delivered in the autumn. They've taken a while, but we do hope that we will now see a difference in that area.

Supporting Those Living with Substance Misuse

5. What work is being done by the Welsh Government during the pandemic in partnership with local health boards, councils and charities to support those living with substance misuse? OQ56328

During the pandemic, we've worked very closely with area planning boards and other partners. Thanks to the excellent efforts of our substance misuse services on the front line, as well as other services, we have provided additional guidance and support, including new treatment options and funding to meet the complex needs of this group.  

Organisations like Kaleidoscope, working as part of the Gwent drug and alcohol project, are concerned at the difficulties in ensuring good vaccination take-up amongst service users. Their front-line workers have very strong relationships of trust with those service users. They're in regular contact with them and understand the difficulties of chaotic lifestyles. Minister, would you agree that those front-line workers are well placed to actually deliver the vaccinations, given their own training and backgrounds and willingness to undergo any additional training that may be necessary? Allowing them to do that would be one way of ensuring good take-up of vaccine amongst this very vulnerable group. 

15:05

Thanks for your support and your interest in this very sensitive area. I was really pleased to meet with the Developing a Caring Wales group, and, of course, Kaleidoscope was there as a part of that representation of people looking after people in these very difficult situations. I heard in that meeting of their offer that they would like to make in terms of offering to vaccinate some of the most fragile people within our communities, with whom, as you say, there is a degree of trust that's been built up. I'm pleased to say that I did pass that information on to our vaccination team. Also, just in terms of the other priority groups, you will see today that we are going to issue new guidance—it has just been published, at 3 o'clock—in terms of people with serious mental health conditions. I think there will be people within the scope of the people who work with Kaleidoscope who maybe will come into that category. We've asked the health boards to make sure that they work with the third sector, with organisations like Kaleidoscope, to make sure that we can reach out to these more vulnerable groups who perhaps are not the kind of people who would go into a normal system. 

Suicides

6. What action is the Welsh Government taking to try to prevent an increase in suicides as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic? OQ56336

We've ensured that mental health services are essential services during the pandemic and have invested in a range of approaches to improve support. Preventing suicide is a complex issue and requires a multi-agency approach. We have strengthened arrangements, therefore, to improve the co-ordination of actions with partners including police, local authorities and the third sector.

I thank the Minister for that response. 

This is an extremely difficult and sensitive subject, as anyone who has lost a loved one to suicide will know, but I feel it is important that we talk about it so that we can be sure that everything can be done to prevent deaths. The issue came home to me last week after watching an ITV news report that included an interview with the leader of RCT council. He said that the suicide rate had doubled in the area during the pandemic, and I've heard concerning stories across Wales. The situation was already concerning before COVID, with Office for National Statistics data showing that suicides were at their highest for 20 years in the latest year for which data are available, which is 2019. The Welsh Government does have a suicide and self-harm prevention strategy, which is very welcome of course, but could you give me some more detail, Minister, about how the effects of the pandemic have been taken into account in delivering this service, and will you please set out the support that is currently available for people who are suffering from depression during the lockdown so that people can know where to turn to for help?

We have been able, with some additional funding, to appoint a national suicide prevention co-ordinator, and we've now got three regional co-ordinators to make sure we strengthen that partnership working. It's a very odd situation, because one of the things that we've tried to do is to make sure that we follow real-time information. Suicide is a really difficult area, because actually you have to wait until there's an inquest to get a formal understanding of what exactly has happened. That provides us with a problem, but rather than waiting for that to happen, we've got now these organisations, including the police, making sure they've fed into this task and finish group with us and the police to make sure we understand what's going on on the ground. 

I guess one of the heartening things is that The BMJ recently published a report to say there wasn't any evidence of a consistent increase in suicide rates during the early stages of the pandemic. So, that's the picture that they've seen, and of course, we'll just keep an eye on what's happening within this space, because of course, this is the most tragic situation and we have to do everything we can to make sure that we're assessing that. Health boards are required to report unexpected deaths of patients within 24 hours, and there's an expectation that there's going to be an investigation within 60 days, so that real-time issue is something that we're keeping an eye on.

15:10
The Mental Health and Well-being Needs of Public Sector Workers

7. What is the Welsh Government doing to address the mental health and well-being needs of public sector workers in Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire? OQ56327

We take the health and well-being of our workforce extremely seriously and encourage employers to provide a range of extra support during the pandemic. We are monitoring the impact closely and working with partners to provide immediate additional help to respond to people's changing mental health needs. 

I've listened with interest to your comments to I think it was Jayne Bryant and to David Melding. It's all about mental health and how we can keep our eyes open for people who are suffering. You will know as well as I do that organisations such as Mind have done endless surveys that show that public sector workers suffer disproportionately, take more time off work, and have greater mental health issues across the whole of Wales. I've had a number of e-mails from public sector workers in Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire just saying how hard they're finding it to manage lockdown, to cope with it, like so many of us. I just wondered are there any programmes that we can put in place or are there any ways of Welsh Government being able to encourage public sector organisations to be able to really try to reach out to those who are working on their own, isolated at home or perhaps in a very busy home where they're finding it very difficult to do their jobs because of all the noise around them. They may have young children at home who aren't at school and the whole situation is getting to them. Because if you have a person in front of you or in the office just next door, you can have a much better feel for how they might be. It's very difficult to tell when you're on a Zoom call to somebody once a week. Is there anything the Welsh Government can proactively do to help public sector employers really look after those employees?

Absolutely. I won't dwell on help for health professionals, because that's a specific programme we've got in place, but we do have Healthy Working Wales, of course, which is a programme that lots of public sector organisations have already signed up to. I know all seven of the health boards and the Welsh Government have signed up to this, and many local authorities, including Dyfed-Powys Police. So, there are lots of organisations that have already signed up to that. What's happened is that there's been strengthened advice within that programme in order to understand the new context of the pandemic. What is important also is that there are a number of programmes and organisations in the Hywel Dda area that are able to help in this space. We've got lots of different programmes, including the healthy and active fund. If we can get people to understand the link between mental health and physical activity, I think that is really important that we encourage people to do that, and I know that there are projects across west Wales that are helpful in that sense. So, there are plenty of places people can go for advice. The first thing to do, I think, is to go to the websites of the health boards. We've asked them now to update their advice on those to make those much more accessible, much easier to read, and every one of the health boards has now done that. That should be easier for people to access now and they should get that local advice that may be suitable for their area.

And finally, question 8, Rhun ap Iorwerth, to be answered by the Deputy Minister. 

Tourism Businesses

8. Will the Minister make a statement on support for tourism businesses in Ynys Môn? OQ56318

I am fully aware of the pressure on the industry in Anglesey and I very much appreciate the relationship between ourselves as a Government and the local authority in Ynys Môn, under a strong leadership there. I'm pleased to say that we are continuing to seek ways of collaborating and also of securing adequate funding from the UK Government.

15:15

Thank you. The sector certainly needs further support. There are still businesses who are only receiving a little support, or virtually none—those who are self-employed, those who don't pay their staff through PAYE, businesses that opened too close to the original lockdown, those that are receiving the self-employment income support grants, but therefore haven't been eligible for the grants from the specific fund for the sector. There is one fund looking at commercial profits, looking at the threshold and another on turnover. I've received correspondence from a company running a number of restaurants—the staff are on furlough, but the owners can't pay themselves because there is no profit in the business.

These are very common stories. I want this sector to be fit and ready to reopen, so can I ask you what you are doing now to try and close these gaps? With the new normal being very different to how things were, when things do reopen—fewer customers in restaurants, for example, a bus company not being able to work, possibly—how do you hope to assist businesses in reopening on a phased basis? When will we have the kind of recovery plan that will engender confidence in the sector for the future?

Everything that we do as a Welsh Government is aimed at the recovery of the tourism sector, and other sectors. We have secured almost £3 million for almost 200 tourism businesses on Anglesey, and that is in addition to the grants that have been allocated very effectively by the local authority. That will continue.

I continue to meet regularly with tourism Ministers across the UK and I have to say that strong pressure is being placed on the UK Government by my fellow Minister in England, because he represents a rural area that relies on tourism, similar to what we have in Wales. That's how we're seeking to work.

I would like to have any information on anyone who is having such difficulties as you mentioned. Where they fall between the gaps between the Welsh Government and UK Government support programmes, we will look into that.

4. Topical Questions

We now move to a topical question, which will be answered by the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs. The question is to be asked by Adam Price.

Flooding

1. Will the Minister make a statement on the support that is available to people following the recent floods that have affected communities across Wales? TQ541

Diolch. On 27 January, Welsh Government announced a further £6.5 million funding to support local authorities to respond to severe weather events. This includes support for households who suffered flooding in their homes or were evacuated, with payments of up to £1,000 administered by local authorities.

I'm grateful for that response. Can the Minister also tell us whether businesses affected by the most recent floods will be able to access the flood support grant fund that was announced earlier this year, specifically targeted at businesses? In looking at those communities that have been affected recently by floods, in my constituency and in nearby constituencies, will they now be given further investment from NRW in order to build flood defences and flood prevention programmes?

Specifically, in terms of prioritising those communities, I understand that there is a threshold, Minister, in terms of what's called section 19 reports where there have been floods. I think that threshold is around 20 buildings having been affected. Now, in a number of rural communities, it's a small number of properties that are affected, but they are regularly affected by flooding. I'm aware in my constituency, in Pontargothi, there are eight buildings that have been flooded three times in three months. So, would it be possible to look at the cumulative impact of flooding in rural communities, where there are fewer buildings, but of course you can just imagine how the residents in those buildings feel, having faced that kind of damage a number of times in a brief period. 

15:20

Diolch, Adam Price, and if we can just focus on Pontargothi, first of all, as you know, we met with a range of partners in relation to the flooding that happened, unfortunately, in your constituency. And I should just say there's no threshold set in statute when it comes to a section 19 report. We expect if 20 houses have been flooded that that local authority, or that flood risk management authority, would then bring forward a section 19 report, but they could choose to have a lower threshold and assess that in relation to each event. So, I would certainly discuss that with the local authority in relation to your own constituency. 

We have seen some unprecedented flooding over the past year, as you're aware, and I've made it very clear not just to NRW but to all risk management authorities that funding is available, and they should come forward with schemes that we can then consider. The Welsh Government has and continues to proactively manage and respond to flood risk across Wales. By the end of this term of Government, which obviously is only a few weeks away now, we have invested £390 million in our flood defences. So, the funding is available—there's still funding available—and whenever there is an event, that needs to be looked at by, as I say, either the local authority or NRW, and the funding is available from Welsh Government. 

Thank you, Minister, for that answer regarding flood defences. As I think all Members are aware, the flooding has posed major challenges in rural communities, including those in my constituency, and I'd like to pay tribute to those in the communities who've come together and supported those that have been worst affected by the floods. Can I ask you, in villages in Monmouthshire, the flooding has exacerbated already underlying capacity issues in the drainage and sewage network, and I've been in contact with Welsh Water Dŵr Cymru over a number of constituency cases? They've been very helpful. Are you as a Government liaising with local authorities and also Welsh Water to make sure that the network is being monitored properly, and is upgraded as and when necessary so that it is fit for purpose, so that when future flooding comes along, perhaps the problems aren't quite so bad? 

Absolutely. Welsh Water Dŵr Cymru are a valued partner in relation to this work, and whenever we have a—. You will have heard me just say in my answer to Adam Price that I met with him and a range of partners, and Welsh Water were part of that. But it is really important after any flooding event, we know how heartbreaking—. If your home is flooded, it's very, very stressful and very traumatic. So, whenever there's any flooding, it's really important that we find out the cause of that flooding, and sometimes it can be something that can be obviously rectified straight away, sometimes it needs a longer solution, and it's really important that our partners work with us, with local authorities, all partners together to look at those potential solutions. And a solution could be much longer term, and could be a new flood defence, so somewhere between something simple and, as I say, a new construction. So, it's just really important that everybody works together, and I know that has happened in Monmouth. 

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) took the Chair.

5. 90-second Statements

Diolch, Llywydd. On 21 February, we marked one of the many significant days in the remarkable history of Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney. It was on this date in 1804 that the Trevithick steam engine made its first ever rail journey, nine miles from Penydarren to the Merthyr-Cardiff canal. This journey made Richard Trevithick and not George Stephenson the real father of the railways. And such was the scepticism on the part of the Cyfarthfa ironmaster, Richard Crawshay, that he placed a 500 guineas bet with Samuel Homfray from the Penydarren works on whether the train would actually be able to haul 10 tonnes of iron to Abercynon. He lost his bet.

Today, it's through our heritage that we remember this event through the Trevithick trial and, of course—and I remind the Deputy Minister for culture of this—the replica of the Trevithick engine is in Swansea, not in Merthyr Tydfil. There are now significant plans to develop the Cyfarthfa experience under the brand of the Crucible Project. In my view, Richard Trevithick and what he did in Merthyr Tydfil on 21 February 1804 should form an important part of that story. As National Museum Wales states:

'We cannot underestimate the importance of Trevithick's locomotive. In 1800, the fastest a man could travel over land was at a gallop on horseback; a century later, much of the world had an extensive railway system on which trains regularly travelled at speeds of up to sixty miles per hour.'

This

'remarkable transformation, a momentous occasion in world history'

was initiated in my constituency in February 1804. Diolch.

15:25

Monday 22 February marked the start of Fairtrade Fortnight, an important movement within the country, given that Wales became the first Fairtrade Nation on 6 June 2008. At the heart of fair trade is localism, and I'm proud to be a member of the Abergavenny Fairtrade Forum, which is a vibrant and enthusiastic team. The forum was founded in 2007 and has been very active since then. Over the past few years, I've been honoured to be invited to open various events in Abergavenny, such as the Fairtrade Fortnight finale, organised by local couple, David and Martha Holman, from the charity Love Zimbabwe. However, due to the current restrictions, all public events, such as the fair-trade breakfast and the pancake morning, have had to be cancelled. The forum has several online events, which can be accessed on the group's Facebook page. Fair Trade Wales also has numerous other online activities, which are featured on their website. This year's theme, as established by the Fairtrade Foundation is 'climate resilience' and the challenges posed by climate change to farmers and their workers across the world—something that I know is of great concern to Members here, and of which you'll be fully supportive. I'm pleased that the Senedd has committed to using fair-trade tea, coffee, sugar and biscuits on the Senedd estate, and whilst we're not able to be there at the moment, I do hope that you'll all join me in celebrating this fortnight with a cup of fair-trade tea or coffee at home.

Dr Julian Tudor Hart was one of the most influential and inspirational doctors of the twentieth century. He was a general practitioner who began his career shortly after the birth of the national health service, and most of his working life was spent as a GP serving the deprived mining community at Glyncorrwg, in my constituency of Aberavon. Here, he was able to further his research, combining his training in public health with the everyday care of his patients. He was able to study the effects of planned, anticipatory care over several decades, and thus was a strong advocate for preventative actions to avoid the need for treatment. He understood that effective primary care depends on a solid foundation of trust and continuity amongst all parties. This research led to the production of his paper on the inverse care law, which was published in The Lancet for the first time on 27 February 1971, thus celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this weekend. Dr Tudor Hart's work concluded that people in living in more deprived areas had higher death rates due to people's predisposition towards sickness as a result of circumstances or lack of a correct treatment. It was visionary, and became recognised throughout the world as a major piece of work on health inequalities, stating that the availability of good medical care tended to vary inversely with the needs of the population served. The paper considered the market distribution of medical care to be 'primitive and historically outdated'.

Market forces should not dictate the healthcare of communities. That should be based upon need and not status. I have strong socialist views and believe in this concept, that the need to address health inequalities cannot be owned by any one political party but should be owned by everyone. We frequently praise our fantastic NHS staff as they care for people across Wales, but if we wish to ensure that many people do not need to seek care in the first place, then we must continue to address the challenges that were identified by Dr Tudor Hart in his paper 50 years ago. It is concerning that the inverse care law remains as relevant today as it did 50 years ago. We must all commit to ensuring that it does not remain important over the next 50 years.