THE MP for Llanelli, Nia Griffith has said that a lack of investment in the NHS has ‘come home to roost’ and that the financial help for people is not getting through fast enough.
We interviewed the Llanelli MP recently and asked her some questions relating to the Coronavirus outbreak.
We began by asking if she believed that Wales had been abandoned by Westminster, specifically the NHS as it is a devolved issue,.
Nia Griffith replied: “What we have in Wales is Welsh Government and a united health service. We are putting one voice forward and we know that Mark Drakeford is in there in talks with the UK Government whereas what we have in England is many different health trusts with many different policies across the country and I think it is much more fragmented. What I do worry about is, it’s back to the issue of the starvation of funding to Wales to our health service for years and years. This is what is coming home to roost. There is no spare capacity to gear up. We have seen a crisis every winter even without the Coronavirus. What should have been happening is investing, putting by, and creating spare capacity so we were better prepared to face an emergency.”
We mentioned the criticism levelled at the First Minister from some quarters including the constant challenges from the Plaid Cymru Leader, Adam Price. We asked the MP if she believed that Mr Drakeford was the right man for the job at this time during the crisis.
Nia Griffith replied: “Absolutely. His experience in health is unparalleled. The important thing about Mark (Drakeford) is that he sticks very much to his principals and will get on with the job. He has to make sure he works alongside the UK Government. This is a crisis situation where all four nations of the United Kingdom are coming together and are working together. It is very important to get that working relationship right. Because very often you can get more by asking in a civilised way than by shouting from a rooftop.”
We relayed the concerns of nurses and doctors in the front line who have said that they fear for their lives and for the lives of their families having not been provided with adequate personal protection equipment (PPE). We asked Nia Griffith if front line workers were now getting the PPE.
In answering the question the MP said: “I really do have genuine concerns. My two sisters are front line health care workers. It is appalling that the equipment has not ben forthcoming. This has to be a priority and we must gear up to get the equipment from wherever we can. They are in a very dangerous situation. They are dealing day in day out with highly infectious patient. We have not had this sort of scenario for many years. We must do everything we can to get that supply chain going and get the PPE to them. It is not just the health service it is also people in the care sector who need the proper equipment.”
We asked the MP how the government and local authority have been able to find so much money and equipment given that we were told of cuts, austerity and no money for investment in health and education.
Responding to the question Nia Griffith said: “It hasn’t been hidden away. The issue is that there is an enormous amount of expenditure. We are going top end up with a more severe economic crisis than that in 2007-2008. This money is being drawn down from other areas. It will of course add to the national debt. We have to be very responsible about it. Everybody recognises this is a crisis and we must do our best by our people. Whether that is providing health care for them, whether it is providing support at home for those who cannot leave their homes. Whether it is helping the very poorest in society who do not have the resources at home in the way some of the rest of us have. It is money that is going to have to be paid back. We are going to have to try and get the economy going when this is all over. I am really concerned for all of those businesses because they are going through such a hard time at the moment.”
We told the MP that Lee Waters AM had said that there would be a peak in the Coronavirus in June. We asked if she agreed with that case scenario.
Nia Griffith replied: “That is exactly what the health board is saying. We are on week four now. They would expect a peak in the numbers actually ill in week thirteen. When you have a peak it doesn’t mean to say that that it all stops. You may plateau for a bit you may go up and down for a bit. You may gradually come down. This is going to be going on for months. We need to be on the front foot on all the different types of services and support we can give because it is going to be a very long time before it is back to business as usual.”
We asked the MP how she was measuring the impact on the most vulnerable in society and highlighted some cases where people awaiting urgent medical attention or who were suffering at home as a result of an extended waiting time for treatment.
The MP said: “It is very difficult for people who were going to have elective operations. I must take my hat off to the health care workers. They are really doing their best. I know people who have to have cancer treatment, which is beating down their immune systems. They have gone to the hospital and have been allowed in one at a time to minimise the chance that they could meet anyone else and they can pass on infection. We do understand the Health Service cannot deal with some of those operations, which are not life threatening and, which will have to wait. It is not very nice for anyone in that situation but we are facing the fact that doctors who have not specialised in intensive care have been doing all the other things we have come to expect from our health service have been drafted in to help with the very seriously ill. We mustn’t forget of course that there is already quite a significant absence rate in some parts of our health service.”
We asked Nia Griffith if we were going to have to get used to a very different way of living in the future in the wake of the Coronavirus and if technology was something, which would have to be rolled out and made available for all as an aid.
Speaking about her own experience in meeting the challenge of social distancing the MP said: “I am not the best when it comes to IT and I have had to step up to the mark and try and get myself organised. Some of the older community will be used to this and have been using technology to communicate with their grandchildren. Others will have significant difficulty. What this crisis will do is expose the inequality in society. That is what we need to tackle. We need to tackle the problem of very low wages. The problems of people who were struggling to make ends meet before this happened. We can see the massive surge in people who have had to turn to Universal credits. Suddenly people are realising how little money that gives you. How difficult it is to live on that money. What we need now is for the Chancellor to extend some of those support systems so that it covers more workers so that we don’t have so many who have only got Universal Credit to look to.”
We mentioned the amount of financial aid packages being offered to large companies and asked if there was a danger of people exploiting the system.
Nia Griffith responded: “That is always a worry. To be fair to the Welsh Government, one of the things they said about the rate relief was that it would not go to the biggest firms. Quite clearly we need to concentrate the resources on those people who are actually struggling. “
We asked if the MP was confident that the financial help was getting through to the most vulnerable and given that councillors were not attending meetings and that we were getting reduced services whether there was a case for scrapping the council tax for the next six months.
Nia Griffith answered: “First of all, the help is not getting there fast enough. The idea that some self employed people can wait until June is absurd. We should be making that money available a lot more quickly. When it comes to the council they are taking on a huge amount of extra expenditure. What I would say is that those people who are luck enough to have their wages and salaries coming in, they should carry on as normal when it comes to paying council tax but of course the council, to be fair, will be taking a very sympathetic view to those people who are in genuine difficulty on council tax and on rent. The Welsh Government has banned evictions so there is a bit of a safety net there. The other thing I would say is that we have kept in Wales what we call council tax benefit. That means that some people don’t have to pay the full amount of council tax. It may not be known to many people because they have been on a decent income up until now. If they are on lower income they need to get as much advice they can in terms of housing benefit and council tax. What I do worry about is that the DWP has not stepped up to the mark and people are waiting on the phone for hours and hours and can’t get through to register their claims. “
We asked if the MP was worried about the way in which the council was being run and if using delegated powers risked accountability and whether she would like to see a greater representation in decision making involving a greater mix of people.
The MP said that she did have some concerns but explained: “The point is that this is the officers having to move into different roles. We are going to have to see how it works out. Many of them are having to take on new responsibilities. We shall certainly be questioning and many people will be feeding back to me where they feel that things are not working so that I can take those up with the Chief Executive.”
We asked if the MP believed that accurate and adequate information relating to the Coronavirus pandemic was being fed down to the public by the UK and Welsh Government, local authorities and the media.
The MP responded: “I think everything is a moving feast at the moment. Information and advice is changing every day. I think people are still in the process of setting up structures and it is difficult. I am in touch via a videoconference every week with the health board and the local authority and various other public bodies. It isn’t easy to get the information but if people need more information please do get in touch. In terms of the national picture I do think it is time we upped the pressure on government. I do think there are things that are not being done that need to be done. We need to be a bit more vociferous about that. Today is the first day that most of the newspapers have taken up the real problems. Problems like lack of ventilators, lack of equipment and the lack of finance coming to those who need it. These are all issues that need to be put firmly at the foot of government so they can address them.”
We asked if the MP would be observing and noting the issues that may have not worked well and if she was going to raise these issues and make sure that something was done to rectify them for any similar crisis in the future.
Nia Griffith said: “I think people laughed at us in the election when Labour said we should be rolling out free broadband to every home. It has become essential. It has become like water or electricity. It has become an absolute vital part of life. So let’s hope we can have that discussion when this crisis is over. In the meantime we have to put in the support as much as we can wherever we can.”
Asked if she could highlight the work of people in the community the MP said: “A big thank you to those who are volunteering. A lot of people have come forward. People are looking after people in their street and people are looking after those who haven’t got family. People are helping with the food-banks. Some of the local businesses are delivering now instead of expecting customers to come to them. If anyone wants to volunteer there are channels available via the council. “