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50% drop in number of people able to access NHS dentists since start of pandemic

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POEPLE are reluctant to contact their dentists for an appointment because they feel that a check-up might not be seen as important enough.

That is the view of one MS who has called for an increase in capacity in dental services and to help boost the number of dentists working in Wales.

Dentistry services, like the health system, is facing pressure to offer it’s pre-pandemic services due to a large backlog and added infection controls.

In March 2020 NHS dentistry services have been scaled back to help protect the public and dental teams from the threat of coronavirus.

Many dental procedures, such as fillings or scaling, use high-speed drills and other tools which are “aerosol generating” – which create spray which could risk spreading the virus.

Although routine services are now being offered by NHS dentists, the backlog caused by the pandemic has caused long delays for many patients who want a check-up.

Across Wales there has been a 50 per cent reduction in the number of people who have been able to access NHS dentistry.

Speaking in the Senedd on Wednesday Altaf Hussain MS said that people have become reluctant to “contact their dentists for an appointment” in case they are not seen as important enough.

He said: “It is a worrying fact that many dental practices have struggled to return to normal as we emerge from the pandemic.

“Many people cannot access an adequate out-of-hours service for emergency advice and appointments.

“A check-up is, however, vital to the patient: problems can be identified earlier and a dentist is qualified to advise on the wider questions of oral health.

“Can the Minister outline what discussions she has had with the British Dental Association about the capacity of our dental services, and what plans does she have to ensure we have the right number of dentists working in Wales?”

Health Minister Eluned Morgan said that a new chief dental officer has been appointed in Wales in a bid to help alleviate the pressures facing the service.

Monthly meetings are now taking place to help get some “real pace” in the system.

Ms Morgan said: “One of the things that I’m doing at the moment is I’m going through the details of the integrated medium term plans for each of the health boards and I’m making sure that every one of them has a proposal and a plan that are adequate to address the issues in relation to dentistry.

“We did have a period of time where there wasn’t a chief dental official in Wales in post, and so I’m really delighted now to see that we have appointed somebody and that that focus, I hope, will be brought to bear on the system.

“We are still in a situation, of course, where aerosol-generating equipment could cause infection and so we do have to understand that there are still restrictions in relation to dentistry that may not be quite the same as in other NHS facilities.”

Sioned Williams MS said a report carried out by Swansea bay community health council’s found that “70 per cent of people feel pressure to seek private dental care in order to get an appointment.”

Ms Williams added: “I welcome the government’s recently announced plan to improve dental care, but I’d like to know how the contract reform is going to adequately and urgently address all of the concerns reflected in the report, which are replicated all over Wales, and have been raised by many members in this chamber.

“Is there sufficient funding to increase NHS capacity to end this unjust postcode lottery, and ensure those who cannot afford to pay, or who cannot find an NHS dentist, receive the care they’re entitled to?”

The health minister said: “We have put in an additional recurrent pot of funding—£2 million.

“As you’ll be aware, what we can’t do is to conjure up new dentists overnight.

“And that’s why what we’re trying to do is to make sure that we train hygienists and therapists, and I can assure you that there are about 20,000 people who are being seen each in week in Wales.”

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Health

Hywel Dda Health Board confirms Bank holiday arrangements

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FOLLOWING confirmation that Monday, 19 September, will be a Bank Holiday to mark the Queen’s State Funeral, the Health Board is contacting all patients to confirm or re-arrange their appointments, depending on service availability. Whilst all emergency services will be operating as normal, we need to adjust some elements of our planned care services and prioritise patients with urgent care needs wherever possible.

Our Chemotherapy Units will be operating as normal on Monday and some surgery for urgent cases will take place at our hospitals.

Where appointments need to be re-scheduled, patients are being contacted over the coming days by the relevant team to re-arrange their appointment as quickly as possible. In some cases, this may mean bringing appointments forward to this week. Some face-to-face outpatient appointments will still go ahead, and some may be held as an online/virtual appointment on Monday.

If you have an appointment on Monday, and have not been contacted by 1pm on Friday, please contact the health board’s communication hub on 0300 3038322 or email ask.hdd@wales.nhs.uk for further information and guidance. Staff at the communication hub are available to answer calls between 10am-4pm on Saturday, and 10am-3pm on Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday. We are contacting all patients by telephone or text message, please check your telephone for any messages.

As GP surgeries and most Community Pharmacies and Dental services will be closed on Monday, a Bank Holiday out of hours service will be provided. Individuals requiring repeat prescriptions are encouraged to arrange them in advance.

All urgent and emergency care services will continue as normal. If you are unwell and unsure what to do, you can visit the online symptom checker or call NHS 111. The Minor Injury Units at acute hospital sites will be open as usual. Opening hours for community walk-in services can be found on the health board’s website. Please attend an Emergency Department, or call 999, if you have a life-threatening illness or serious injury, such as: 

Severe breathing difficulties 

  • Severe pain or bleeding 
  • Chest pain or a suspected stroke 
  • Serious trauma injuries (e.g., from a car crash). 

We apologise for any inconvenience caused and thank you for your support and patience.

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Health

Hywel Dda set to upgrade Glangwili’s X-Ray facilities

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STAFF and patients are set for a boost with the news of an upgrade of Glangwili’s X-ray facilities. Hywel Dda University Health Board has been fortunate to be awarded Welsh Government funds, as part of a health board wide imaging equipment replacement scheme, which will allow for a new x-ray room to be built at Glangwili General Hospital.

The new development will mean that one of the two existing x-ray rooms at Glangwili General Hospital will be refurbished with a new superior digital x-ray room which will facilitate higher standards of diagnosis.

Following numerous breakdowns of the current x-ray room, this new and improved equipment is welcomed and will help improve x-ray capacity at Glangwili General Hospital. The new state of the art equipment will produce superior image quality of x-rays and at the same time lower radiation doses. The rejuvenation will also mean a fresh new and improved environment for patients, especially our paediatric patients.

Construction will take place from September 5 until November 11, during this time Glangwili General Hospital will operate with its remaining x-ray room which will mean some delays for outpatients. Delays will be mitigated by the use of a temporary x-ray room which can be used for some examinations.

Patients with appointments for x-rays will be offered evenings and weekend appointments and some will be offered slots at other health board sites to keep momentum on reducing waiting times. The team at Glangwili will ensure that emergency patients will be seen with as little delay as possible and that CT, MRI, Ultrasound and Fluoroscopy appointments are not expected to be affected.

Andrew Carruthers, Executive Director of Operations, said: “This investment from the Welsh Government will be a great benefit to our patients. The team at Glangwili are committed to the continuous development of services that we offer as a health board and the new equipment will benefit our patients. We are excited for the other three acute sites to have their replacement x-ray room within this financial year.”

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Health

Autumn Covid-19 booster roll-out begins today in Wales

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THE ROLL-out of the autumn Covid-19 booster has started today (September 1) in Wales with care home residents and staff across Wales the first to receive the vaccine.

Everyone who is eligible for the autumn booster will be invited for a vaccination by their health boards. Invitations will be issued in order of vulnerability, with everyone eligible being offered a booster vaccine by December.

The vaccine will help support the immunity of all those who are at higher risk from COVID-19, improving their protection against severe illness, while also helping to support the NHS during winter 2022-23.

This autumn, in line with advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), a single dose of COVID-19 vaccine booster will be offered to:

  • Residents in a care home for older adults and staff working in care homes for older adults
  • Frontline health and social care workers
  • All adults aged 50 years and over
  • People aged five to 49 years who are in a clinical risk group
  • People aged five to 49 years who are household contacts of people who are  immunosuppression
  • People aged 16 to49 who are carers.

In line with advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), eligible adults aged 18 and over will initially be offered the Moderna vaccine which protects from both the original strain of coronavirus and the Omicron variant. Those eligible aged under 18 will be offered the Pfizer vaccine. Both vaccines will be offered at least three months after a previous dose.

The vaccines will be administered in a variety of settings including GP surgeries and vaccination centres.

The winter respiratory vaccination strategy will ensure all those eligible for the autumn booster are also protected from seasonal flu – people are being encouraged to take up the flu vaccine when offered. All those eligible for a flu vaccine will be offered it before the end of the year.

Health Minister Eluned Morgan said: “Our winter respiratory vaccination programme will help protect the most vulnerable in our communities from flu and coronavirus this winter.  The COVID-19 booster campaign will start with those in care homes, alongside those working within the NHS and the social care sector.

“Vaccines have had an enormous impact on the course of the pandemic – they have saved countless lives and given us the freedom and confidence to restart our lives.

“I want to thank everyone working in the NHS and other organisations who will once again lead efforts to protect the most vulnerable through vaccination.

“This year, we will  once again offer an expanded flu programme, with 1.5 million people being eligible for a free vaccine.

I would encourage anyone who is eligible to take up their invitation to help themselves.

“All eligible adults will be invited for their autumn COVID-19 booster via letter and text message from their health board by December and I would ask people not to contact their GPs about their invite so they can continue to focus on looking after people’s health.”

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