Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Planning for the future - or for developers?

Here's a little example of how the planning system is broken.

The Plas Coch retail area is a very popular place to go shopping. It has one entry off Plas Coch Road, which is also used by the University, the Plas Coch pub, Ysgol Plas Coch primary school and surrounding residents. It's already a busy road and, at times, is gridlocked.

Over the past couple of years there have been several planning applications to develop the area. These have included:
  • Costa Coffee drive through
  • Extending the Plas Coch into a hotel
  • 400 new apartments on the University campus
These have all been assessed by the planning committee in isolation and the latter was passed despite the highways officer recommending refusal on the grounds of congestion.

At the same time, Ysgol Plas Coch has now been expanded to accommodate 315 pupils (it was originally built for 210) with resulting added traffic at pick-up times.

There are now two new planning applications that will have a serious impact on this part of town:
  • Plans for 455 new homes on the Stansty Chain Road - just the other side of the dual carriageway. These will be accessed via Mold Road as well as Stansty Chain Rd but anyone wanting to avoid the B&Q roundabout will doubtless be using the back road.
  • Just before Christmas plans for a 24-hour drive through McDonald's were submitted for the car park section in front of The Range. 
The cumulative effect of these developments, if passed, would be to increase traffic, increase pollution and clog up Plas Coch Road and surrounding areas for more and more of the day. It would be bad for local residents as well as local businesses - who wants to spend an hour in traffic to get to the supermarket?

But when the planning committee comes to decide on whether the new housing estate and the McDonald's should be allowed, they'll be unable to take into consideration the other pending application. They'll have to take them all on their own individual merits.

We're not planning for the future - we're allowing the planning system to be dictated to by those with the deepest pockets, who can pay experienced consultants to navigate the system. Local residents, by contrast don't have those resources.

Monday, 9 December 2019

Turnaround our town

A plan to improve Wrexham town centre

For too long, our town centre has been in decline. It's not unique in that respect - towns across the UK have suffered from a decade of cuts and hardship, changes in shopping habits and the rise in homelessness and drug misuse. 

It is a profoundly worrying decline and impacts on many businesses and jobs in the town centre. The problem is clear - too many empty shops, not enough to attract people into town, poor public transport, anti-social behaviour from a small minority and a visible homelessness issue that makes many people worry about their safety.

Every year, various agencies spend hundreds of thousands of pounds trying to manage the situation. To what extent can we use existing funding more effectively and access new funding to transform our town centre.

Plaid Cymru locally does not pretend it has a magic wand to remedy the situation overnight but we want to turnaround our town.

This starts with a series of practical measures:

1. Cutting business rates for small businesses
In its annual conference in October, Plaid Cymru passed a motion proposed by Cllr Carrie Harper to introduce far-reaching changes to the business rates system. It would enable us to alter business rates to provide better support for small businesses while expecting out-of-town shopping malls and large supermarkets to pay a differential rate. This is already the case in Scotland and is one practical way to reduce costs for local businesses.

2. Better bus services
Wrexham has lost half its bus services in the past three years. De-regulation of bus services has been a disaster with private companies picking and choosing the profitable routes while the council has a reducing budget to subsidise the rest. Welsh Government has not increased the Bus Service Support Grant for the past seven years and this has meant a reducation in services. Wrexham urgently needs more funding for improved bus services to bring people into town

3. Trial free parking
The council already offers free parking in the run-up to Christmas and on special occasions. It needs to be more radical. While we seek to improve public transport, a more immediate impact would be to trial free or reduced parking in council car parks for six months. This would also have the knock-on effect of reducing parking on residential streets around the town centre.

4. Dealing with drugs
Hundreds of thousands of pounds each year is spent in Wrexham to maintain the current services for drug and alcohol misuse. It does not address the root cause of addiction and we believe prohibition of drugs has been a failure. The ease with which drugs can be purchased in any part of the UK demonstrates that. We support the work done by Police and Crime Commission Arfon Jones to tackle the drugs issue by making it a medical rather than a criminal problem. We would use the money saved by doing this to improve drug and alcohol rehabilitation and detox programmes to enable people to instantly access these services rather than go on a waiting list. 

5. Safer streets
Plaid Cymru is committed to the devolution of criminal justice, as is the case in Scotland and Northern Ireland. A Plaid Cymru government would increase police numbers and ensure an extra two police officers per community - a significant and visible presence for areas such as our town centre. We will turnaround our town by making it a safer place to enjoy shopping, leisure facilities and food and drink outlets.

6. Shelter the homeless
Tackling homelessness needs to be two-fold. In the short-term, Wrexham has a night shelter but it also needs a day shelter for people without homes. This could be used to store clothes and personal possessions safely as well as providing cover from bad weather and accessing services more effectively. In the longer term we need to provide housing for all our residents and that means increasing the number of council houses we build as well as ensuring that all new housing developments have an element of affordable housing. All too often, developers have opted for maximum profit rather than community benefit.

7. Pride in our town
Wrexham people want to be proud of our town. We've had a few knocks over the years but we will fight back because we want to turnaround our town. We have a proud history and heritage, we have some stunning architecture and real characters, we have a thriving music and cultural scene as well as a sporting heritage second to none. 
 We have worked with others to ensure Wrexham's place as the spiritual home of Welsh football has been recognised - our plan for a national football museum is coming to fruition after a long campaign. We can also be proud of the recognition that Focus Wales gives the town as well as numerous unique venues such as Ty Pawb, Undegun and Saith Seren. 
 We will continue to work with anyone who wants to turnaround the town and make it somewhere to shout about.

Sunday, 8 December 2019

Why I'm proud to come from Caia Park

With attention fixed on Wrexham for the upcoming General Election, my community of Caia Park has been in for a bit of a rough ride from UK tabloids and the press generally. Whilst many (understandably to a point) use Caia to put a spotlight on rising poverty levels and the impact of Tory austerity, there is a real danger that the genuinely rich character and flavour of our community is bypassed in favour of more attention grabbing poverty laden headlines.

Caia Park has recently featured in articles in the Guardian, the New Statesman and the Mirror, along with TV broadcasters Sky News focussing in on our patch as part of their election coverage. Each have highlighted rising poverty levels, many have used pictures of the Red Dragon derelict pub for a bit of added gloom (a building due to be refurbished imminently by the way) and some have even resurrected the 2003 so called ‘Caia Park riots’ to add to the picture of community living in deprivation, desperation and division.

This is not the Caia Park I know, far from it. It’s difficult not to be political about all this given the General Election is driving all this attention and the fact that I’m a Caia girl standing in that election for Plaid Cymru. Because of that, I’ve been told repeatedly that I can‘t have a quote in many of the press articles or be interviewed for the TV coverage. Luckily social media allows me to disregard that in favour of a bit of balance and have my say, so here we go.

I grew up in Caia Park and still live here, as do many members of my family and countless friends. I’m a Plaid county councillor for the Queensway ward in the heart of Caia which is so often the focus of attention and also a local community councillor here too. The recent press attention has been upsetting for many of the people I know and represent, as they feel vilified by the growing hate filled comments and the judgemental bias being levelled at them online. We are often painted by those who see themselves as a cut above as drug fuelled scroungers, who are lazy and uneducated. Other commenters revel in offering their profound and often sarcastic advice to those living in poverty regarding finding cheaper bags of pasta, or getting a couple of pence off tinned food. It makes my blood boil.

I know better of course but that doesn’t make reading some the online comments any less infuriating. Far from the grim press image, my community is in fact a complex network of families and friends who stick together in tough times. We all know each other too. Like so many others living here, my Mum and Dad live around one corner, my Gran in the next street and my brother down the road. As well as knowing my immediate neighbours, I’ve probably got a connection with someone on most streets across Caia Park, we all have. We have a powerful sense of community that many across the UK would envy.

On a professional level, I can also tell you that my community doesn’t wait around for the often distant powers that be to arrive to address many of the day to day challenges we face. We get on and do it. I could give you countless examples over the years where this community has worked together to address so many wide ranging issues, whether it's clearing up litter to tidy up a local field, looking out for scammers targeting our elderly neighbours, or organising food pick ups for struggling families on Christmas Eve, we get on and we do it.

In fairness to the local council, of which I'm a regular critic, huge amounts have been invested into housing locally. Over the last decade thousands of rooves have been replaced, new kitchens and bathrooms installed, solar panels fitted in many homes and a programme of work to replace fencing and overhaul gardens has begun. The ward I represent is 70% council housing and although there is still work to do, the estate is currently looking a lot better than I ever remember it growing up.

So yes we have rising poverty levels here thanks to Tory austerity, much of it impacting on families who are in work as well as those who are not. It’s heart-breaking to see people left with literally not a penny in their bank accounts for weeks on end thanks to Universal Credit and welfare reform. It’s also heart warming and shattering in the same breath to see someone split a days food parcel with their sister because neither have any other way to get a meal.

The poverty is very real for some and it is undoubtedly a disgrace that almost half our children in several Caia Park wards are living in poverty in 2019. But to only see that perspective would give you a purely black and white view of a proud community that is in fact vibrant and full of colour.

When people ask me where I’m from, I tell them I’m from Caia Park with my head held high.

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Complaining councillors told by Ombudsman: GROW A THICKER SKIN

Statement by Cllr Marc Jones regarding complaint about liking a Facebook comment
For the past 18 months, since Plaid Cymru councillors challenged Wrexham Council's Executive Board over its use of Kingdom, we have faced a sustained attempt to silence us.
A few councillors in the ruling coalition have scoured our social media to try to find fault. They have screen grabbed page after page of material and passed it on to the council's monitoring officer, without success.
Last month a complaint was submitted to the Ombudsman about a Facebook comment I 'liked' back in August. The complainant was the council leader Mark Pritchard, on behalf of 11 anonymous councillors who were “hurt” by this.
The initial post was about the council's decision to spend £22,000 on resurfacing the councillors’ car park back in August.
One person responded with “what a shower of tw*ts”.
I ‘liked’ that comment.
I understand there was an attempt to get all 31 councillors in the ruling coalition to sign up to this official complaint. Only a minority did and at no time did anyone contact me directly or via the council's internal mediation process regarding the post.
The Ombudsman has now written to me to say he will not be investigating the complaint and has effectively told the council leader to 'grow a thicker skin'.
I regret liking the remark. I'm in a public position where that kind of abusive language should not be encouraged.
But I also regret that the Executive Board is more concerned with the "hurt" they feel from a liked comment than the real hurt they have caused in cutting jobs, closing services, shutting down life opportunities and failing to deal decisively time after time with the issues that bother Wrexham people.
The Plaid Cymru group of councillors - Gwenfair Jones, Carrie Harper and myself - have been consistent in standing up for our residents in Gwersyllt West, Queensway and Grosvenor wards. We've also played a full and active part on the council in terms of attending and contributing to scrutiny meetings, planning committees, workshops and task and finish groups. We have not been shy when this council's ruling Tory-independent coalition needs challenging and that's why we have faced this constant attempt to silence us.
There is a clear protocol within the council about dealing with complaints between councillors internally and informally before opting for the last resort of taking complaints to the Ombudsman. The council leader and the other 10 councillors failed to adhere to that protocol and, instead, opted to go straight to the Ombudsman.
I'm glad the Ombudsman has decided not to investigate the complaint.
We’re not going away, we won’t be silenced, we’re not taking a backward step. We will hold this ruling Executive Board to account on behalf of the people of Wrexham.

Monday, 18 November 2019

Red Dragon to be refurbished as Co-op store

The Red Dragon on Prince Charles Road is due to be converted into a Co-op store, with a planning application having been submitted to Wrexham County Council.

Local councillor for the Queensway ward Carrie Harper said: “ I’ve been working with the team behind this project for some time now and am delighted the project will soon be going to the Planning Committee for approval. I’ll be supporting it wholeheartedly and am glad we can now announce it publicly for the first time following a lot of negotiation with the council.”

“The Red Dragon building has been deteriorating for some time and its central position in the ward have sadly made it an eyesore in recent years. I know locally the community will welcome the fact it’s being refurbished and will look forward to the work starting. The current Coop store we have is extremely well used and I’m sure local shoppers will also appreciate the extra choice a bigger store will bring. It’s fantastic news.”

Vanessa WarBrick from Northold Group said: “We are pleased to confirm that with the help and support of the local councillor, we have now submitted a planning application to convert and extend the vacant public house, formerly known as the Red Dragon on Prince Charles Road in Wrexham. Our application is to convert the vacant pub into a convenience store, which will be operated by the Co-operative, and the new store will replace their existing shop on Prince Charles Road.

The pub has been vacant and boarded up since previous attempts to revitalise it in 2011, and after working closely with local councillor, Carrie Harper, who has been instrumental in assisting us with our proposals, we believe that we have designed a new store, that is both in-keeping with the existing building and its surroundings, and will also benefit the local community.

If our application is successful, the new and improved store will help to create additional jobs in the town, due to a larger store being created, there will be a better product offering on sale, which gives customers an improved shopping range available locally, in addition to a better parking provision.

We are hopeful that our proposals will be well received by the planning authority and local community, so that we can bring life back into a building, which has lay empty for quite some time."

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Betsi to force nurses to extend shifts for no extra pay

Challenge to health minister: Which side are you on?

Last night Betsi Cadwaladr health board decided to force nurses and HCSWs to extend their shifts for no extra pay. The plan is to enforce an extra 30 minute unpaid break per shift, even though many nurses don't have time to take their breaks as it is.

The decision will save an estimated £25,000 a month... just 2% of the £1.1million it spends on agency nursing each month.

For this tiny amount of financial saving, it is willing to destroy the goodwill of nursing staff that keep our NHS working.

One in 10 nursing posts in BCUHB are currently vacant, meaning overstretched staff are having to work extra anyway. Many have told Plaid Cymru that they already work through their shifts or are on call in case of an emergency. This suits senior management, which has seen the opportunity to squeeze and extra few hours of unpaid cover from them rather than employ extra staff.

We have also been at the forefront of fighting alongside nurses and unins to stop this scheme because it damages morale in a workforce already on the brink. Many nurses have said they will quit, retire early or take sick leave if this scheme is introduced.

Plaid Cymru and the unions have fought this tooth and nail and the battle is not over yet. The plan is meant to be introduced in January 2020.

Health minister Vaughan Gething has direct control over Betsi. It's been under the Labour Government's direct control for more than four years after being put in Special Measures. He has the power to overturn this.

Which side are you on, Vaughan?

Monday, 28 October 2019

Marbella, the management consultant and the scandal of the nurses' rotas

Last month, an anonymous letter sent to politicians and journalists raised questions about the extensive use of management consultants earning £1,000 a day or more at Betsi Cadwaladr Univerity Health Board.

Plaid Cymru's North Wales AM Llyr Gruffydd sent a request for clarification to BCUHB but was ignored for more than a month. He sent in a Freedom of Information request base don the anonymous tip-off.

He then raised the matter with the health minister Vaughan Gething.

One issue in particular was disturbing - that one of the management consultants was being paid £2,000 a day for work that involved making savings by extending nurses'r rotas by half an hour per shift to save on agency nursing.

The consultant in question was Phillip Burns, who the Daily Post reports is based in Marbella.

Llyr Gruffydd said

“The Freedom of Information response we’ve received shows that Mr Burns will receive £40,000 a month for his work in saving the health board money. One of his suggestions is to extend nurses’ shift for extra half-hour a shift without pay. This would save an estimated £25,000 a month according to the health board.

“It beggars belief that the health board have to resort to overpaid consultants to do this work. It also begs the question about why senior managers in the health board can’t find savings without putting additional pressure on overstretched nursing staff.

“BCUHB has a £42 million deficit and one in nine of its nursing posts is vacant. It’s paying a fortune on agency nursing costs because senior management can’t recruit or retain enough staff. 

"To make matters worse, BCUHB has been in special measures for the past four years and that means it’s under the direct control of the Welsh Government. I have challenged health minister Vaughan Gething and his predecessor Mark Drakeford (now Welsh First Minister) to explain how they are improving BCUHB because staff and patients on the ground are not seeing any significant improvements. 

"If we’re having to see costly consultants come in to run the show, then it suggests that senior management isn’t doing its job. Given that the health board is under the direct control of the Welsh Government, the buck stops with them.”

Fighting Wrexham's corner - Plaid Cymru selects Carrie Harper to contest Westminster election

Campaigning councillor Carrie Harper has pledged to "fight Wrexham's corner" after she was chosen to stand for Plaid Cymru in the next Westminster election.

Caia Park born and bred, the mother of two has built up a reputation as a campaigner over the past 15 years. 

She said: 

"Regardless of what the current crop of MPs decide in London over the coming weeks over Brexit, for a better future for our area we need someone who will fight Wrexham's corner and refuse to take a backward step.

"Everyone's been distracted by Brexit and that means that crucial issues such as child poverty, the NHS and climate change have been neglected by those in power. 

"Half of the children in the area I represent and the area where I grew up are living in poverty, something Plaid Cymru is determined to address directly. 

"I recently moved a motion in Wrexham Council calling for action to tackle the climate emergency, where we have to do our bit for the planet globally by acting locally.

"I'm also very concerned about the state of our NHS, which is under attack in England from privatising Tories and here in Wales from ineffective managerial Labour. We have a desperate shortage of GPs, nurses and other health professionals across the region and Plaid Cymru's long-held view is that we need to recruit, retain and train 1,000 extra doctors and 5,000 extra nurses in Wales to take pressure off our hard-working NHS staff. At present we're wasting huge amounts of health spending on managerial consultants as well as agencies who cream off a lot of funding. A long-term plan to improve the workforce as well as integrating health and social care is our priority."

Thursday, 24 October 2019

£2,000 a day for Marbella-based management consultant?

Plaid AM’s frustration as health board refuses to respond

Delays in responding to questions about management consultants earning up to £2,000 a day at a beleaguered health board have been raised in the Senedd this afternoon.

Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru’s North Wales AM, said that he has written to Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board in response to a anonymous letter featuring allegations made by the health board insider. He said:

"I wrote to the chief executive and chair of BCUHB because these were specific allegations and I wanted to know if there was any truth in them. It's disappointing that, to date, I've yet to receive a reply or even an acknowledgement after more than four weeks. As a result I’ve submitted a Freedom of Information request but that is still outstanding.
"I'm particularly concerned about rumours circulating within Betsi Cadwaladr health board that the Recovery Director Phillip Burns, who was appointed in July to oversee savings, is earning £2,000 a day and is also working from his home in Marbella. I have asked whether he is being paid that and whether he is getting expenses to travel from Marbella.

"I understand he is overseeing the proposed changes in the nurses' rotas, which have proved massively controversial and are aimed at saving £25,000 a month from the board's agency nursing bill. If that's correct, then the health board's plan to change nurse rotas will save less than they're currently paying this one person every month.

"These planned changes to nursing rotas will, I believe, backfire on the health board as nurses will retire earlier, leave the profession or reduce their hours. If it turns out to be the case, then further questions need to be asked about senior management's decision making and their use of outside management consultants earning astronomical rates."

Mr Gruffydd raised the matter in questions to health minister Vaughan Gething, who responded by saying he would raise the delays in responding with the board.

Mr Gruffydd added: “There is a legitimate public interest in knowing whether this claim is accurate. There is no excuse for ignoring an elected representative who is raising these concerns privately. I feel I have to make this public to get a straight answer. I’m sure BCUHB staff will be interested in the response and I’m glad that the health minister feels the delay is unacceptable.”

Communities unite to fight urban sprawl in Wrexham

New plans to build 455 homes on the circus field between Gwersyllt and Wrexham

Plans for 455 new houses on the circus field on the Mold Road will cause more urban sprawl and destroy the green wedge between communities.

The planned new estate will fill all the fields to the south of the farm shop right to the A483 and Mold Rd roundabout. In addition,there will be houses on both sides of Stansty Lane beyond the underpass past Ysgol Plas Coch.

This raises serious questions about increased traffic on what is essentially a country lane. It also raises questions about how the road network by Ysgol Plas Coch and adjoining roads will cope with hundreds of extra cars at peak times.

This is in addition to the 400 new flats that have recently been approved for the University campus that will also be accessing Plas Coch Road.

The Welsh Government recently imposed a permanent 50mph on this stretch of the A483 due to high Nitrogen Dioxide emissions.

Local Rhosddu councillor Marc Jones said:
"I've asked for more information from the developer and the council regarding the impact of putting more housing next door to the A483 if pollution is such a problem. The plans I've seen show the children's play area located right next to the dual carriageway.

"Wrexham's Local Development Plan includes this land for housing development and that's in addition to the 365 homes being built in Llay, the 319 approved for Ruabon and the 1500 being proposed for the Ruthin Road super village. If this happens, the entire A483 corridor is going to become one big urban sprawl with no green space, huge congestion problems and placing additional pressure on schools, health services and other essential infrastructure. I want to see sustainable development but creating commuter estates along the A483 is adding to the problem, not solving it."
Developers Russell Homes are consulting with the local community at the moment. You can find out more about the plan by visiting the public exhibition drop-in being hosted by Russell Homes on Wednesday, 6th November from 3-7.30pm at the 1864 Suite, Hays Travel Stand on the Mold Road side of the Racecourse ground. If you can't make that, there are other opportunities in Gwersyllt Resource Centre.

An open letter to Wrexham planners has been created - you can sign it here

Friday, 11 October 2019

Nurse rota petition handed in to Betsi by Plaid AM

From left – Cllr Carrie Harper (Wrexham), Cllr Mabon ap Gwynfor (Denbighshire), Llyr Gruffydd AM, BCUHB secretary Dawn Sharp and Cllr Aaron Wynne (Conwy) 
A 3,500-name petition opposing plans to change nurses rotas in north Wales has been handed in to Betsi Cadwaladr health board by Plaid Cymru.

Plaid Cymru’s North Wales AM Llyr Gruffydd led a delegation of councillors from Wrexham, Denbighshire and Conwy to present the petition to the health board secretary Dawn Sharp today.

Mr Gruffydd said: 
"Over the past two months, the health board has been consulting about changes to the rotas of 4,095 nurses and health care support workers across the North. The changes effectively mean that frontline staff would see their shifts extended by an additional half-hour break for no extra pay, which will have an impact on nurses’ work-life balance and childcare arrangements.

“Many of them have contacted us to say how they already work through their breaks because of staff shortages and the desire to care for patients. This goodwill is being abused and frankly frontline staff are now at breaking point. Over the course of this campaign, we’ve pointed out that there are one in ten nursing posts in Betsi standing vacant and this has meant huge additional agency nursing staff costs for the board. The anticipated savings from these changes is £25,000 a month – just 2% of the agency nursing costs. At the same time, it will undermine all goodwill that nurses have shown in going the extra mile. It’s a terrible proposal and one I hope the board is big enough to realise is a mistake.

“As well as our petition, a further 3,500 people have signed Unite the Union’s petition on the same theme. This is clearly an issue that concerns thousands of people across the region who understand the fantastic work being carried out by our nurses and do not want them to be stretched even further by these proposed changes. The board must scrap this proposal before it further undermines nursing morale and leads to more leaving the profession.”

Mr Gruffydd said the board had accepted the petition and it would be presented at the next board meeting on November 7th.

Monday, 7 October 2019

A quarter of nurses in north Wales are over 55 - Betsi must act now

A new report to Betsi Cadwaladr health board reveals that more than a quarter of nurses in the region are over 55 and therefore approaching retirement.
The health board has failed to train, retain and recruit enough staff across the board but the problem is particularly acute in nursing and midwifery, where there is a 11.8% vacancy rate.
The failure of workforce planning over a decade has led to the current crisis, which is being compounded by stupid proposals to extend nursing shifts without extra pay.
Many nurses retire before they reach pensionable age due to the stress and strain of the job, having worked shifts and nights for 40 years or more.
This is a general problem in the NHS and will be made all the worse if Brexit forces out EU staff. However, the problem is particularly acute in BCUHB because senior management and the Labour Government in Cardiff have failed to address the situation beyond temporary recruitment drives abroad. For a time they even banned nurses who were training in Glyndwr University from getting placements in Wrexham Maelor Hospital!
Back in January 2014 Plaid Cymru's Leanne Wood unveiled plans to train and recruit 1,000 doctors and 5,000 nurses to safeguard the NHS in Wales. If that had happened back then, we would be in a far better place than we are now. The drift and failure of the current Labour Government in Cardiff is endangering our health service. That's why we need change at all levels.

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Controversial changes to nursing rotas would only save 2% of monthly agency nursing bills, health board admits

North Wales Plaid Cymru AM says: ‘Scrap nurse rota changes’

Controversial and unpopular changes to nurses’ rotas would only save 2% of a health board’s £1,120,000 monthly agency nursing bills, it has been revealed.

Betsi Cadwaladr health board, which currently has a deficit of £42m and has recently admitted it is struggling to meet its financial targets, has revealed the expected cost of proposed changes to nursing rotas in a Freedom of Information response to Plaid Cymru AM Llyr Gruffydd.

Mr Gruffydd said: 
“The savings that the health board hopes to make with these hugely unpopular changes to nursing rotas are tiny when put into context. In return for destroying staff morale and goodwill among hard-pressed nurses and Health Care Support Workers, the health board expects to save just £25,000 a month. This is just 2% of the monthly agency nursing bill of £1,120,000.
 “We first learned about these proposals, which are out to consultation until September 17th, when nurses approached us to express their concerns about the implications. Nurses were expected to be on duty for an extra half and hour for no extra pay by taking longer breaks on their shift.  
“It’s a cynical move by a health board that appears to be so remote from the frontline staff that it doesn’t realise how many of them already work through their breaks. Our NHS locally relies on the goodwill of 4,095 nurses and Health Care Support Workers and this proposal will destroy that goodwill.  
“I doubt that the ‘savings’ envisaged in this proposal will materialise because we’ve heard from so many nurses that they will not work their breaks any more, that they will reduce their hours or take annual leave. Nurses are being placed in an impossible position by senior management, who are making a difficult situation worse with these plans.  
“In the past month more than 3,200 people have signed Plaid Cymru’s online petition - https://www.wrexhamplaid.cymru/nurse_rotas_pet - opposing these proposals. A further 2,400 have signed Unite the Union’s petition as well. The feedback we’ve had from the petition has been overwhelming with experienced skilled nurses saying this will be the death knell of the health board. Betsi’s senior management must reconsider its plans and scrap the proposals.  
“I would also urge the Labour health minister Vaughan Gething to intervene – Betsi Cadwaladr is under his direct control and has been in special measures for four years now. He needs to understand that the pitiful amount of savings achieved under this proposal will be outweighed by the additional costs of paying agencies to cover nurses who retire, reduce their hours or who actually take their breaks rather than being on call on their wards or units.”
 * The consultation ends on September 17th - please show your support for our nurses here.

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

We should not be surprised when Tories talk Wales down

In reply to Tory candidate Sarah Atherton’s recent letter titled ‘Only the Tories will stand up for Wales’. There is so much irony in that statement it’s difficult to know where to start.

Sarah trots out the usual Tory line that Wales is too poor and too small to be a successful Independent nation and delights in telling us that we would be incapable of running our own affairs.

This doing Wales down attitude should surprise no one, the Tory party called for a re run of the 1997 referendum establishing our own Assembly and they continued to oppose Wales having any powers for 6 years following that. Rather than standing up for us, this seems to suggest they’d much prefer to keep Wales quiet. 

Atherton then attempts to convince us that Wales is too poor because of ‘the maths’. She refers to the fiscal gap. So is Wales too poor? There are 3 key issues to consider.

In Wales, recent figures estimate the fiscal gap is £13.7b and falling but that figure comes with a number of caveats.

Firstly, the figure is an estimate of what the fiscal gap is as part of the Union, not what it would be in an Independent Wales. This is key because an Independent Wales would spend significantly less in a number of different areas. We would not be spending Welsh tax payers money on England only projects such as HS2 and London's Cross Rail for instance as we do now, we would also spend significantly less on defence and nothing at all on vanity projects such as refurbishing the Houses of Parliament. We would of course be free to set our own spending priorities which would be significantly different to those dictated to us by Tories in Westminster.

Secondly, there is much debate about what the true Welsh tax base actually is because accurate figures are not currently available. Many companies who operate in both Wales and England are often registered in England for tax purposes, meaning we do not currently have accurate data as regards what taxes are raised in Wales.

All in all, any fiscal gap in an Independent Wales would be substantially less than the estimate used in the figure Atherton quotes. Additionally, having full control over all economic levers such as borrowing and taxation means we will finally have the economic tools we need to build the Welsh economy. The truth is that our economy has been kept on its knees by successive UK Governments who have never prioritised our interests but instead been more interested in exploiting our resources. We literally can’t afford not to be Independent.

Thirdly and crucially, it is simply a fact that most countries run at a deficit, aside from a few oil rich middle eastern nations, this is a perfectly normal situation. For instance, any fiscal gap in Wales is dwarfed by the fiscal gap of the UK, which stood at a whopping £167b at its highest in 2010. Does Sarah Atherton think all UK nations including England are too poor to be Independent because of the fiscal gap? I doubt it, that’s just a view reserved for Wales I’m sure.

So is Wales too small to be Independent? This is nonsense and another empty line trotted out to every country who ever dared entertain their Independence. Is Iceland with a population of 340,000 people too small? Is Luxembourg too small? New Zealand, Norway? Finland? Ireland? Of course not. Many thriving Independent nations have a smaller population than Wales and many fewer resources. There are in fact 18 Independent nations in Europe with a smaller population than Wales.

Does Sarah Atherton believe people in Wales are too stupid to be Independent? She’s keen to suggest bizarrely that the Welsh population would flee across the border should Wales gain her Independence because in her opinion only England can run decent public services and offer a good quality of life. Let’s deal with that ridiculous idea head on, there is nothing intrinsic about the people of Wales that means we’re any less capable of running our own affairs than any other nation anywhere in the world. To suggest otherwise is just insulting.

To conclude, can anyone seriously take constitutional or economic advice from the Tory party who are currently trying suspend democracy in London to force through a no deal Brexit? The party who inflicted the Bedroom Tax, Universal Credit and zero hours contracts on Welsh communities?  The party who are led by a racist, misogynist, homophobic buffoon who isn’t fit for office?  

I for one would much rather see the people of Wales chart our own course. My message to Sarah Atherton and the Tories is that we can't afford not to be Independent, we’re not too small and we’re not too stupid to run our own country. The irony and arrogance of such suggestions given the reign of chaos by Sarah Atherton’s party across the border is staggering.

Friday, 23 August 2019

'500 nursing vacancies - yet Betsi management are doing this!'

Mounting concern over rota change plans in north Wales hospitals

Plaid Cymru councillor Carrie Harper has condemned Betsi Cadwaladr health board over plans to make nurses work longer shifts for no more money.

The proposals, currently out for consultation among staff, would mean nurses and Health Care Support Workers having an extra half-hour unpaid break per shift. This would effectively mean having to work an extra shift per month and has prompted a huge reaction among the health board's nursing staff.

Cllr Harper, from Wrexham, said: 
"Betsi Cadwaladr health board currently has 500 nursing vacancies. Yet its management plans to introduce new rotas for staff that will make it harder to fill those vacancies. Nurses are telling Plaid Cymru that they will retire early, cut their hours, take annual leave or even go to work for agencies if these proposals go ahead.
"Nurses and HCSWs are at the frontline of delivering a fantastic service across the North. They're already working under immense pressure and many have told us that they have to take their breaks on the ward and are effectively on call despite not being paid for those breaks. Betsi is cynically trying to exploit nurses' goodwill to have them stay on site for longer so they can save money on employing agency nurses.
"Nurses work damned hard and don't need more pressure being put on them by management who can leave their offices at 5pm. One in 10 nursing positions is vacant in Betsi, which gives you an indication of how difficult it is to fill these demanding roles. Does senior management really think this move is going to help retention and recruitment?"

The petition - https://www.wrexhamplaid.cymru/nurse_rotas - which was launched just four days ago has already gathered 2,500 supporters and Cllr Harper said the passion and strength of feeling was evident from the hundreds of comments by nurses, HCSWs and general public.

She added: 
"The consultation goes on until 17 September. There's still time to show your support for our nurses and to keep the pressure up on both BCUHB management and the Welsh Government, which has direct control over Betsi."

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Nurses speak out over controversial Betsi plans

'This will be the final nail in the coffin for nurses working for Betsi. We already work on understaffed ward so we are lucky if we take a break. This will mean lots of nurses moving away from the nursing profession and I will be one of them. I absolutely love being a nurse but will not have my health threatened by the trust putting more pressures on me. Betsi are showing their true colours in my opinion, they care more for finances than patient or staff wellbeing. Maybe if they put money into their frontline staff by making wards safely staffed and not paying companies to come up with stupid ideas then they might save money in the long run.'

Nurses have come forward in their droves to talk about the impact of proposed changes to their breaks.

Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board are currently consulting on plans to force nurses and Health Care Support Workers to take an extra unpaid half-hour break during shifts. 

Critics of the plan such as Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru's North Wales AM, say the changes will mean nurses being on call during emergencies and will effectively end up having to work an extra shift per month for the same money.

Nurses have commented on a petition launched by Plaid Cymru explaining how it will affect them in terms of childcare costs by having to work longer hours. Some have said they will reduce their hours or even go to work for agencies.

One said:

"I am a staff nurse who feels that this will be the final nail in the coffin for nurses working for Betsi. We already work on understaffed ward so we are lucky if we take a break. This will mean lots of nurses moving away from the nursing profession and I will be one of them. I absolutely love being a nurse but will not have my health threatened by the trust putting more pressures on me. Betsi are showing their true colours in my opinion, they care more for finances than patient or staff wellbeing. Maybe if they put money into their frontline staff by making wards safely staffed and not paying companies to come up with stupid ideas then they might save money in the long run."

Mr Gruffydd said: 
"There has been a huge response to our petition in the past two days with many nurses contacting us to express their horror at the way the health board is trying to make them work longer shifts. Nurses and HCSWs have told us that they already miss breaks because they're so stretched on wards and units and they fear this will just make matters worse.

"It's clear that many frontline staff have to skip breaks because of emergencies and critical situations. Many stay over their shifts for handovers, which can be lengthy in complex cases on specialist units. The NHS survives despite ongoing financial pressures because of the goodwill of its workforce. Staff morale has been battered over recent years and this, as one nurse states, will be the final nail in the coffin'. Losing that goodwill undermines any potential for savings by this cash-strapped health board."

Mr Gruffydd also questioned whether the health minister Vaughan Gething had been informed of the changes, which are being consulted on during the summer holiday and while the Assembly is in recess: 
"This is a very short consultation on what is clearly a hugely controversial matter. It should not take place in August when many nurses will be on holiday or caring for children. I want to know whether the health minister is aware of these proposals, especially as BCUHB is in special measures and under the direct control of the Labour government in Cardiff. If he is aware, does he support the changes?

"I've supported NHS staff over the years with campaigns to retain our neonatal services, raising questions about mental health provision, opposing community hospital closures and more recently the proposal to privatise renal services. Plaid Cymru wants a better NHS for Wales and that's why we believe it's vital to reject these planned rota changes. Our nurses and HCSWs deserve much better and that's why I'm urging as many people as possible to sign and share the petition against these proposals."

• The petition to support the nurses on this matter is here: https://www.wrexhamplaid.cymru/nurse_rotas

Some of the comments from nurses and the general public taken from the petition
(anonymised to protect identities)

If nurses were able to take their breaks completely interruption free then great, but as this is not the case, and most do not even take their full break due to interruptions! I am in full support of my colleagues who are appealing this. – NJ

My daughter works in a very busy NHS ward and the supposed 12.5 hour shift regularly exceeds this and she’s often handing over, completing notes during unpaid overtime. This is a ridiculous proposal and smacks of exploitation of already hardworking people – PW
Stop penalising nursing staff start at the top with executives and managers of Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board! – SE

This is criminal. It is already hard enough to take the breaks staff have, taking an extra half hour will be near on impossible, resulting in unpaid labour. Also having to work an extra day will mean extra childcare and fuel costs for staff, but for no extra pay. Shocking! – RW

What is happening? Aren’t nurses working hard enough without this? What a way to send out a strong msg ‘Nurses we don’t value you, we want to push you further into leaving a profession you love’. If this goes through it’s an absolute disgrace! – Claire
Having to do a make-up shift already once a month has a detrimental effect on my personal life, I end up staying in work an extra half hour every day anyway for free due to emergencies and handover. We don’t just go home at the end of our shift when a patient may die. How could this when we already give so much? - Emily

I am a staff nurse who feels that this will be the final nail in the coffin for nurses working for Betsi. We already work on understaffed ward so we are lucky if we take a break. This will mean lots of nurses moving away from the nursing profession and I will be one of them. I absolutely love being a nurse but will not have my health threatened by the trust putting more pressures on me. Betsi are showing their true colours in my opinion, they care more for finances than patient or staff wellbeing. Maybe if they put money into their frontline staff by making wards safely staffed and not paying companies to come up with stupid ideas then they might save money in the long run. – SE

It's disgraceful we work so hard cant believe they are thinking of doing this . Good job I’m near retirement age .if it goes ahead I’m leaving and going to work for agency xx- EW

Betsi is going to ruin the morale on wards to pay for new unnecessary management roles.- KJ

I’m supporting myself as a HCSW and my fellow nurses and HCSWs everywhere. We have a life beyond the NHS - family, carers’ responsibilities and it’s important to have a good balance for less stress and better, happier work force that can in turn be more focused and better in what they do. Instead of being burnt out and off on sick, which in turn costs more to the NHS. Scrapping this is best thing for everyone it’s not modern day slavery with government extending the pension age to over 70. why are you pushing the NHS to breaking point? Soon there be no one to care for us so thank God for unions and MPs who will stand up for NHS, its staff and the rights of every care worker in UK more than ever. – LW

This is outrageous. On 12 hr night shift, we are unable to take a half hour brake due to heavy workload, never mind an hours break. This will cause many nurses to reduce their hours, causing more staff shortage. – Nia

When I worked as a Nurse the half hour break wasn’t long enough to even get to the hospital canteen and there was no where comfortable near the ward to rest.= Rowena

The staffing levels are already at an all time low this proposed rota will make things much worse. I for one would seriously consider changing my job. I work long enough hours without breaks at times. There is no way I want to do an extra 12 hour shift every month. They haven’t even considered the travel time that staff do before and after a shift. Child care expenses, extra fuel costs!! are they going to help with these? Are they going to pay overtime for every time don’t get breaks? We all know the answer to this. Stop taking NHS staff for granted and give us a break!- Lisa

We struggle to sometimes take our already allocated room 30 minutes never mind 60. I definitely see this resulting in even lower staff morale and nurses going down in their hours! – Angharad

Julie - I’m tired of the harm this government is inflicting on the NHS and it’s dedicated staff working on the frontline and the direct impact on the service users and patients.

I have worked for the NHS for over 22 years and I am losing my passion and hope.

This new regulation about to be put in place will inevitably lower the nursing staff staffing levels, more so less people wanting to join the profession = less registered nurses, due to negativity and how the higher ups are not really listening to their first line of health professionals. You want to keep your workers morale high and continue to thrive? You start by listen to them as THEY//WE are the ones caring for the people unwell NOT you. Its because the goodwill of the nursing profession that its advancing but, will soon fall should the higher ups continue down this arrogant path. I’ve never commented on much however, there is a line and this is where we all must stand otherwise the nursing standard of care, the well thought out “providing holistic care” will all just be for nothing.- Gabriel
Both nurses and hca staff struggle daily to get their lunch break let alone any other breaks.. We bend over backwards to ensure patients have the best care. We often dont finish on time at the end of our shifts and we are expected to work longer hours for less pay. It’s no wonder nhs staff are finding alternative employment when they are pushed to breaking point.. – Laura

Enough is enough, my father is currently in YG and a lot of the nursing staff already seem overworked to me. Stop crisis management and plan for the future!! Look after the nurses we already have instead of bringing them to their knees – Heather

I am a hcsw at Glan Clwyd working 37.5 a week. I have two small children with very little support towards childcare and flexibility. I do not agree with the changes that they want to make. I will be making a loss in pay and having to pay for an extra day in child care. If this plans goes ahead I will be reducing my hours to 34.5. – C

Work to rule. Take all breaks off the ward, every minute, and lodge a formal complaint if you’re unable to, every time. If you don’t fight they will walk all over you.- Alan

CG - I am a student nurse and completely disagree with this!

VW- Staff on the ward regularly miss breaks due to staff shortage and acuity. Myself and other members of staff regularly stay over our shift hours and never claim the time back. Think this will put the nail in the coffin for an already struggling health board. Staff go above and beyond for the NHS and this will be seen to further alienate staff on the ground and management.

JE - Morale at rock bottom, nurses doing the work of 2 nurses due to staff shortages, and this is Betsi's way of saying thank you for all your hard work, all the extra minutes you give by not being able to go for breaks anyway, thank you for all the extra minutes given when no one comes to take handover from you so you have to stay and look after the patients for no pay. Thank you for all the extra shifts you do to prevent the wards from becoming more unsafe than they already are.

ML- As a midwife this will have a huge negative impact on my working and personal life

SR - Our ward has had this in place since the start of 2019. Had no say in the matter, just happened as a trial and then never went back. Nurses never left on time as it was….now they’re working at least an extra hour each shift, as well as not managing to get full breaks!

RJ - I work as an ANP in general practice and over the last 3 weeks whilst my mother has been acutely unwell I have watched nurses working without breaks on a highly dependant ward. To suggest these nurses work the same hours for an hours less pay is criminal. I havecspokennto these nurses and generally the is not enough cover for them to safely leave their patients, let alone meet all the quality standards required of them in a working day. I would suggest that BCUHB are going the right way to reduce staff moral. Do they not realise that low moral equates to nurses voting with their feet. I can see a flux of nurses applying for agency work where they would get paid more for the hours they put in. We are supposed to be retaining nurses and making them feel valued which always results in excellence in patient care not driving nurses out.

Saturday, 17 August 2019

North Wales nurses rota: 'Changes will mean an extra unpaid shift every month'

Cash-strapped health board targets nurses to save money

Betsi Cadwaladr health board has engaged expensive consultants to come up with a brainwave to save money:  Extend nurses' shifts by an extra half hour without pay.

The proposal, currently out to consultation, would mean a nurse currently working a 12 hrs 30 minute shift (with half an hour unpaid break) expected to work the same shift but only get paid for 11 hrs 30 minutes.

Currently many nurses take their breaks on their wards or unit and are effectively on call in an emergency. This is purely down to the goodwill of hard-working staff and this vindictive approach threatens to undermine nursing morale and goodwill totally.

The changes will effectively mean full-time nurses having to work an extra shift a month to make up the unpaid hours.

The consultation has been initiated by PriceWaterhouseCooper, one of the big four global accountancy firms. It will affect thousands of nurses and health care support workers in secondary care.

Nurses we have spoken to anonymously say that, if the plan goes ahead, they will consider 
• reducing their hours  
• quitting completely 
• taking their breaks off their unit or ward 
• taking annual leave rather than work extra shifts
Similar changes have been imposed in English hospitals but this is believed to be the first time it's been tried in the Welsh NHS. 

Underlying the proposal is the need in law to ensure safe staffing on every ward while reducing agency nursing costs by ensuring BCUHB nursing and health care support worker staff make up the numbers.

Poor management also means that there are a huge variety in staff breaks - from no breaks to 75 minutes paid breaks. Standardising these should not mean enforcing an unfair extra burden on nurses.

Plaid Cymru's North Wales AM Llyr Gruffydd has written to BCUHB's chief executive to ask the following:
• How much has PriceWaterhouseCooper been paid by BCUHB for this consultation?
• How many nurses and health care support workers are affected by these proposals?
• How much does the health board expect to save by introducing this?
• What is the health board's current monthly bill for agency nursing and by how much does it anticipate reducing it if these changes are implemented?
Mr Gruffydd added: 
"BCUHB is in dire straits financially - currently running a £42 million deficit with no prospect of reducing that as demand rises due to an ageing population.
"The health board has been in special measures due to a variety of clinical failures since 2015. It is not in its fifth year of direct Labour government control yet shows no signs of dealing with the workforce challenges that underpin much of its problems.
"Concerned nurses have contacted us because this proposal with backfire badly on the health board. The loss of goodwill among thousands of nurses who are already working under immense pressures will probably make matters worse. It's no way to treat skilled, experienced and specialist staff and suggests a cost-cutting exercise promoted by accountants rather than people who understand what it's like to work on a ward or specialist unit."
He said standardisation of breaks was necessary but that this proposal was all about saving money. 

Mr Gruffydd added: 
"I want BCUHB to reconsider this proposal. It is causing anxiety among staff who don't need further stress in their working lives. Staff morale is already low, this could be the straw that breaks the camel's back.
"I will also be writing to the health minister Vaughan Gething to see whether his department, which has direct oversight of Betsi Cadwaladr, is supporti
ve of these changes. Or does he agree with Crewe and Nantwich MP Laura Smith, his Labour colleague, who is opposed to similar changes that have been imposed on nurses at Leighton Hospital?
"Is he listening to unions such as Unite and the Royal College of Nursing? I would urge him to step in and abandon this policy before it causes real problems with the workforce." 

• Plaid Cymru has launched a petition to support the nurses. Please sign here: https://www.wrexhamplaid.cymru/nurse_rotas