First Minister Must Listen to ‘Deep Concerns’ of Charities Over Shielding Changes
32 charities write to FM with concerns over the Welsh Government’s ‘confusing’ announcement
The First Minister must heed the concerns of charities who have written to him citing their ‘deep concern’ over Sunday’s announcement of changes to the shielding guidelines, according to Plaid Cymru’s Delyth Jewell MS.
She raised the issue directly with the First Minister during First Minister’s Question in today’s meeting of the Virtual Senedd.
A total of 32 charities have written a joint letter to Mark Drakeford with their concerns, which include:
- ‘Deep concern’ about the effect of the changes on people who are shielding
- Concerns over the clarity of information and a failure to communicate directly with those affected
- The ‘reasonableness’ test placing a “confusing burden” on people who are a risk
- A failure to engage with the sector leaving them ill-prepared to respond to queries
A survey conducted on behalf of the Asthma UK and British Lung Foundation Partnership also found that only 37% of people deemed to be at risk had received a shielding letter in Wales – by far the worst of all UK nations.
During First Minister’s Question, South Wales East MS Delyth Jewell said:
“First Minister, your government announced on Sunday that the guidelines for people who had been told to shield was changing the following day.
“I’m aware that there’s a lot of concern from people who were told to shield to protect their lives that these changes were brought forward with little warning, and the R-rate still high.
“This morning you will have received a letter from 32 health charities active in Wales outlining their ‘deep concerns’ about the changes.
“They want an explanation about the rationale for the sudden departure from existing guidelines, demand that shielders are told directly about the changes rather than through a press and want the sector to be informed of changes in advance in future so they can prepare.”
In his response the First Minister said the Chief Medical Officer would now be writing to those affected and emphasised that the relaxation of restrictions were simply advice, and that people were free to use their own judgement.
Speaking following the exchange, Delyth Jewell MS said:
“It’s highly unusual for 32 charities to come together to pen a joint letter to the First Minister to raise what they call ‘deep concerns’ about an important health announcement.
“Their aim in sending this letter is looking out for the safety of people who have deemed to be vulnerable to Covid-19 infection, and it’s essential that their concerns are given serious consideration on the top of the Welsh Government, especially when lives are at stake.
“The chaotic failure in communication seen by the Westminster government had been largely avoided in Wales, so it’s disappointing so see the Welsh Government drop the ball in this manner on such an important announcement and I hope that lessons can be learnt so this is not repeated.
“I support the call from the charities for much greater clarity in future and the need for a clear strategy from the Welsh Government that looks after the mental health, physical health and the families of people who have been advised to shield.”
Joseph Carter, The Asthma UK and British Lung Foundation Partnership’s Head of Devolved Nations for Wales said:
“I am very proud to be signing this letter alongside 31 other charities in Wales, highlighting our concerns and comments around the updated shielding guidelines.
“Our survey results highlight that when thinking beyond the 12 weeks, mental health was a primary concern for the shielding group. Therefore the lifting of the restrictions will be welcomed by many.
“However, as we start to discuss the future of the shielding group, we, alongside other charities, are calling for more transparent communication and better coordination with the Welsh Government.
“For charities, organisations and GPs who are supporting our most vulnerable, making significant changes without any consultation can only serve to do more harm than good. Such decisive actions without input cannot take into account the complexities of problems that they face.”
Richard Pugh, Head of Partnerships for Macmillan Cancer Support in Wales added:
“If this crisis has shown us anything, it is that clear, consistent, well-communicated advice on lockdown is absolutely vital, and grey areas simply lead to confusion.
“Welsh Government needs to ensure that the needs of our most vulnerable, and often most isolated, are not forgotten while detailed lockdown plans are announced for the rest of society.
“We know there are thousands of people with cancer in Wales who face difficulties in accessing food and medicine, yet who are having to make difficult decisions about returning to work and are now contemplating exercising or meeting others outdoors.
“Clear guidance and support will go a long way in helping to reduce some of the significant anxiety they now feel.”