Vaughan Gething, Minister for Health and Social Services

Today, at the 2021 conference of the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO), the Chief Medical Officer for Wales released his annual report, which outlines and comments on the first phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to pressures on plenary time, I regret that it has not been possible to schedule a debate, but I want to ensure that Members have had the opportunity to read this important report. I also want to assure them that the Welsh Government will be considering its recommendations carefully.  The report can be found at the attached link.

https://gov.wales/chief-medical-officer-waless-special-edition-annual-report-2019-2020-protecting-our-health

I welcome the report during this challenging time and thank the Chief Medical Officer and his team for their efforts. The report reminds us how interconnected we are, and how quickly a novel virus can spread world-wide. It shows the level of response to the pandemic in Wales and the UK, from our initial rapid action in early 2020 until the end of the summer, and considers what we can learn from that time. The sacrifices we have all had to make and the impact of the pandemic on many aspects of our lives are clear; but the report’s key messages emphasise that we must also grasp opportunities from the pandemic to address certain long-standing and difficult problems.

The report shows the way in which the whole of Welsh society has worked together from national and local government, to businesses, schools, universities, research, health and social care and beyond. The role of the wider community and the way in which people have risen to the challenge by volunteering to help others is to be commended, as is the hard work and dedication shown by our health and social care organisations and the key workers in many other industries and sectors.

The report contains a timeline of our actions in responding to the first phase of COVID-19, looking at the lessons we can learn and how we should prevent, plan and prepare for future pandemics across human, animal and environmental areas. It also looks at how COVID-19 has exacerbated the health and economic inequalities we know already exist and how it has deepened our understanding of these issues and provided a platform to address them. Finally the report considers how we can emerge from the pandemic, taking these lessons and behaviours forward as we establish a ‘new normal’.

The report contains eight recommendations, as follows,

  • Recommendation 1 focuses on investment in health protection services.
  • Recommendation 2 urges us to continually review the effectiveness of our case management and contact tracing systems.
  • Recommendation 3 suggests we take the learning from this pandemic and apply it to preparations for any future crises.
  • Recommendation 4 emphasises the importance of fully engaging with the public on our response to the pandemic and the measures being put in place.
  • Recommendation 5 suggests that, on the back of the collaborations developed during the pandemic, Wales should adopt a whole society ‘One Health’ approach to a number of difficult issues, including climate change, zoonoses and antimicrobial resistance.
  • Recommendation 6 focuses on the need to maintain innovation and creativity in health and social care delivery and that priority must be given to sustaining the wellbeing of all key workers.
  • Recommendation 7 asks us to maintain a focus on health inequities in all our policies.
  • Recommendation 8 proposes that on-going research is needed into the long term effects of COVID-19.

These are sensible and helpful recommendations which we will consider with our various partners.

This pandemic is not over, there is a long way to go but we have learned a lot from the first wave and continue to understand more as time goes on. The Chief Medical Officer’s report will provide a useful resource as future decisions are taken in our COVID response.

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