Sunday 10 October 2021

Carmarthenhire Council ingnores Loughor Estuary environmental risk, building homes in harm's way - a guest post from Robin Burn

"A coastal vulnerability and environmental risk assessment of Loughor Estuary, South wales" Robin Burn reviews an article published in 2015 by the University of Wales, Trinity St, Davids,Swansea warning of the reckless development of areas under risk of present and future flooding. I doubt Carmarthenshhire County Council Planners, both officers and councillors, keep up to date with accademiic studies. Ocean & Coastal Management 116 (2015) 478-490 K.Denner et al ; Coastal & Marine Research Group, University of Wales Trinity Saint David (Swansea),Swansea,Wales,SA1 6ED ; 15th September 2015. Article Review Comment from Abstract An environmental risk assessment of the Loughor Estuary northern shoreline-South Wales, was carried out by adapting a previously developed Coastal Vulnerability Index. "Assessments identified that the most critical parameters affecting vulnerability along this shoreline, were coastal slope and beach width. Results highlighted that this shoreline was vulnerable and that a significant percentage of residential housing, transport and energy supply infrastructure, are located in highly vulnerable locations". It was also noted that there is a concentration of future re-development in similarly vulnerable locations In Introduction the report acknowledges that esturine environments are low-lying fragile coastal ecosystems sensitive by nature to climatic variations. Low -lying coastal areas more vulnerable to climatic impacts and as a result are at a greater risk of flooding and coastal erosion. Easterly drift of sediment and fine sand is accreting the estuary, requiring regular harbour dredging. In the Discussion section of the paper, the authors assess the crux of the investigations acknowledging that" Identification of socio-economic and ecological features wholly or partially occuring in areas of high vulnerability showed that a high percentage of infrastructure related to transport and access and energy supply are located in high vulnerability areas. The majority of residential housing within 500meters of Median Water Height, the area most likely to flood, occurs in very vulnerable areas with little protection. Flooding is already the major issue impacting the study area with Llanelli recording the highest risk of present and future flooding. The addition of new development upon previously developed sites in areas of high vulnerability will increase pressure upon drainage and sewage systems leading to an even greater risk of flooding in the estuary. Almost 80% of coastal land designated for future development occured in areas of high vulnerability. Of the coastal defence structures located in the study area to protect current assets and infrastructure,35% have less than a 20 year lifespan remaining, all of the structures have less than 50 years of longevity left The only available report detailing costs of maintaining defensive structures at the two locations with the highest vulnerability was produced in 2004 and they were estimated to exceed the entire regional coastal defence budget by a factor of 10. The ability of the local authority to defend these structures has been questioned. The lack of knowledge of coastal processes when planning as part of the Regeneration strategy for the study area, has previously led to erosion and flooding potential to new developments. It can be reasoned that the LA's locating of of future infrastructure and development in coastal areas, despite recognisable vulnerability to flooding and coastal erosion, in the face of climate change, reveals a propensity to favour short term economic gain from coastal real estate and investment opportunities Robin Burn I Eng FIMMM 22nd August 2021 picture: asbestos sheeting exposed by the erosion October 7th
Update: High Tides on October 7th caused considerable coastal erosion near Burry Port at the site of the demolished Carmarthen Bay Power Station. What has been exposed is large amounts buried asbestos containing roofing sheets. Other debris may also be toxic, inclding some bright green blocks of material I have not seen before. When I accidently touched one of these it did irritate my skin quite quickly and I had to wash my hand promptly to stop the "burnng" senstion. There is a photograph here showing one of the green blocks, Does anyone know what they are? Copper Arsenite has been suggested to me but I'm no expert.
Sian Caiach

Monday 16 August 2021

Homes , businesses and leisure in the Llanelli Area now threatened after new estimates of future Sea Rise.

Llanelli stands on the north shore of the Loughor Estuary.Much of the low lying part of the town stands on reclaimed land and this area was orinigally full of docks and industrial buildings as well as the terraced houses for workers. The last massive flood suffereed by the town was in 1896 when a huge tidal flood, aided by the tail of an Atlantic Hurricane, submerged all of the lower areas of the town and also cut off the nearby town of Burry Port as both road and rail links there were washed away With global warming and increasing sea level rise, unlikely to be reversed anytime soon, Carmarthenshire County Council planners have reacted by approving or encouraging several significant housing and other developments close to the sea shore. In the case of housing developments they have claimmed that raising the land beneath the new homes and gardens is enough to protect them. Unfortunately they have decided not to raise the road access so these estates could become islands when the floods do come. The project for a large "Health and Wellness" centre at the tidal Delta Lakes site close to the Llanelli shore was rather questionable from the start. Had it gone ahead (it was exposed as a rather fraudulent project and rejected for City Deal Funding) future flooding could have endangered not only the elderly in its care home environments, but also the residents of any housing built there and the workers in the pharmaceutical themed industrial park.
When I moved to Llanelli 26 years ago the risk of massive flooding from the estuary was quoted as a one in 1000 year event. Its now a probability of one in 100 years and National Resources Wales has advised that "one in a hundred" events well may eventually become annual events unless the warming can be reversed. The true situation seems to be that even with our "best efforts" at present we will be lucky to slow the temperature rises and there is very little chance of keeping the sea level at bay, howver high the piles of earth on which the new homes are planned by Carmarthenshire County Council are to be built. The County Council Planners seemed initially to ignore the dangers of Climate Change. There were supposedly plans for the heavy metal contaminted old Grillo Chemical Factory site on the sea front and new housing for areas around Burry Port Harbour. Currently the coastal erosion of an area near Burry Port has exposed the asbestos burried there after the Carmarthen Bay Power station was demolished in the 1990s and much of the asbestos was simply covered with soil by the bulldozers. This contaminated beach is part of the millenium coastal park, currently cordoned off while the visible asbestos is collected from the beach. The rising sea level is surely likely to erode more of the hidden asbestos in future and the authorities are, I understand, cosidering employing a speicalist removal Firm to advise. Asbestos from the old power station is no stranger to the Royal MiLLenium Coastal Park and in dry periods can be seen on the banks and bottoms of the park's ponds near the old industrial site. The increasing coastal erosion may simply release more of it. At a time when more tourists are coming to appreciate the beauty of the coastline, beach barriers and warnings are a blow to our local tourism industry. Perhaps a more mediteranian climate, hotels and swimming pools may be the future of tourism - or perhaps not if the weather is not only hot but violent?
In the last 2 decades Carmarthenhsire county Council has put house building before the environment, even though it has been aware that significant amounts of our sewage has not been treated and although the situation of sewage spills has improved, Welsh Water Dwr Cymru has still not been able to treat all local domestic sewage, even today. Now it is the rising sea which is the big threat. Much of the town is at risk and already many rivers and streams are tide locked - huge valves in place to shut out the sea at high tide where the watercourses meet the sea. As the sea level rises, the rivers run more and more risk of back flow flooding into the town against these valvesif sea level rises.The changing weather patterns of more intense rainfall and more violent storms are likely to worsen the situation. The latest reports on the likely sea level rise now suggest that we need to take the situation more seriously or face the catastrophy of severe weather , storms and flooding with no prior planning . The report by Climate Central is surely a big "wake Up" call. I would hope the Senedd are up to speed with all this and can give all of us under threat good advice and strong protection for the coming years. Those whose homes, jobs and communities are on the front line need urgent guidance. Update:28/08/2021 TIME FOR HONESTY AND LEADERSHIP I am informed today by a well qualified local engineer that in the current climate emergency, the only effective flood protection solution for the threatened parts of Llanelli would be a damn or barrage across the mouth of the Loughor estuary which could both protect the low lying areas of the town from the sea and aiso allow the rivers and streams to flow outwards rather than backflow against the tide locks, otherwise the rivers would be blocked, producing freshwater flooding inland. A decision has to be made soon, construction is likely to be expensive and take several years. Otherwise we have to know the alternative if saving the land and homes is not possible. Sennedd members,National and local civil servants and local County Councillors have known about the threat for some time. They have been warned of the likely flooding by National Resources Wales and other sources such as the recent Climate Central figures, which show the 2050 sea level rise as one which may well drown all of Machynys and much of the other land in Llanelli reclaimed from the sea during and since the Industrial Revolution. Climate change with its likely severe weather, storms and flooding should surely be the most important issue in Llanelli today but our local and National Politicians are largely silent on the topic. If we are told that a crisis is coming we should preapre for it. If there is no money and no time to proetct those under threat , it is surely a time for some painful honesty and arrangements to permanently move those at risk out of harm's way and to places they can live in safety. Sian Caiach

Tuesday 22 December 2020


Aquifers are underground layers of permeable rock, sand, sediments or soil which collect and hold water. They are the usual source of springs and wells and can create underground reservoirs. In our town, Llanelli, they are common and the unseen collections of water below the ground are both a marvel and sometimes a problem and even a danger.Here warnings in small letters about the likely sewage pollution of a council owned beach.Carmrthenshire has dealt with this problem by stopping testing the beach after tests in 2009 showed massive bacterial levels, and asking visitors to wash their hands.
AQUIFERS FOR FIGHTING FIRES Llanelli has quite a number of areas where Aquifers are recorded. All along the coastal margin there are several large aquifers. They were mapped by the fire service during the second world war to be tapped if needed if Llanelli was bombed. Also 2 large artesian underground reservoirs were earmarked for use in emergency firefighting, which are beneath Furnace. Village and School.
YSGOL GYMRAEG Y FFWRNES Sometimes these aquifers do get in the way. The new Ffwrnes School had to be built, for some reason, on the artesian Stradey Fault, causing some delay, as standard foundations failed and the school needed to be built on floating foundations. The environmental assessment at the planning stage advised that the pressure beneath the foundations should be monitored and a system put in to vent water . It was planned instead to install attenuation ponds and underground water storage to try to control the waters beneath the school. Whether this has worked or not I don't know. I'm currently a governor there so I am very happy to meet via teams, not only for Covid reasons, but also just in case no one is monitoring the foundations, which would not suprise me.
FFYNON ELLI I believe that a mineral water produced from, Ffynon Elli, was once sold as bottled water from the aquifers beneath Furnace . This was one of the 7 wells and springs from which Llanelli obtained drinking water prior to the building of the Trebeddrod Reservoir in 1854 which then became the main source of drinking water. In this case the Aquifer were clearly of some use and may be again.
A HOLY WELL? Ffynon Elli was thought to be a holy well, the water said to have health giving properties, Its exact site is unknown now, but there were at least 2 wells in the area, one said to be on Cille land and one somewhere between Old road and New Road. Perhaps we could encourage tourism? Llanelli is ideal for extracting water, not only has the town got a large amount of water underneath it, but also multiple artesian springs in the higher land behind the town. As the rainfall is increasing due to climate change , some of these are now more active. Perhaps a local entrepreneur will one day consider reviving some of our wells and springs commercially?
RAINSCAPE – HAS THE STATION AQUIFER SLOWED THE SCHEME? Another area where the aquifers have caused problems is where they block developments, most recently related to Rainscape. This project was designed to stop the large numbers of sewage spills currently still being made into the Loughor Estuary This is a protected NATURA area, but as the local sewage treatment plant could not cope with the volumes, the sewage has to be vented into the Estuary to stop backflow flooding of raw sewage into residential parts of the town.
LIES AND DECEPTION – LETS PRETEND NOTHING HAS HAPPENED. Unfortunately the constant sewage spills have destroyed some of the rare wildlife in the Estuary and in 2005 a major sewage spill caused a mass death event which wrecked the shellfish industry. The local Cockle Hand Gatherers led by Robert Griffiths and the Stradey Residents Association, led by their chair, David Rees, took a case against the UK Government in the European Court which proved, in 2016, that Welsh Water, with the collusion of Carmarthenshire County Council and the Environment Agency (now NRW),were allowing unlawful Sewage spills. In order to satisfy the court judgement in 2016 the UK promised to address the infringement. I have heard that some in Natural Resources Wales now claim that as we have left the EU there is no need to follow their environmental laws. This is completely untrue.
BE CAREFUL WHO YOU VOTE FOR – IF YOU WANT TO PRESERVE THE ENVIRONMENT Our local environment has been injured by sewage spills and they are still happening under the watch of our Senedd, Natural Resources Wales which should protect our environment but does not in this case, and Carmarthenshire County Council, whose excessive housebuilding in the clear knowledge that there is insufficient sewage capacity to treat the human waste products , is yet another disgrace our elected representatives have foisted on us. With so much empty talk about saving the planet its good to see our Labour Senedd Member and our Plaid Cymru County Council all turning a blind eye to the destruction of a major fishery and important European wildlife conervation area. Just not important enough fpr them to care about.
EXACTLY WHEN WILL THE SEWAGE POLLUTION STOP? The Rainscape project is running late after hitting a large aquifer underneath the station. I have been told that the large drain along Station road has been dug through the aquifer but that there are still problems with back flows of water into the town, and also possibly problems with pumping the excesses out to sea. Pentre Awel, the Breezy village planned to replace the Wellness Science Park and Kuwaiti Medical school in the firmament of Carmerthenshire county Council's dreams of future economic development, seems to be just the old plans for a liesure centre and old people's home already funded to replace the old leisure centre and St Paul's care home. No sign of the massive City Deal cash once hoped to fund the grand plans. Private investment will fund the rest, apparently, hopefully when WWDC works our how to sort out the sewers of Llanelli and clean up the bays.
The major goal of Rainscape was a plan to remove surface water, which used to run into the sewers, and pump it via Delta Lakes and out into the sea This was planned to allow the volume of the sewage to be reduced by concentrating it so that the sewage spills could stop. Welsh Water’s own figures show that the sewage spills still continue frequently. The cockles have returned, but are in reduced numbers, slow growing and stunted, smaller than they used to be. A recent train derailment has also polluted the estuary and it is not yet clear how much more damage has been done to the fishery..
SURELY IT IS TIME TO CLEAN UP THE BURY INLET AND STOP THE SEWAGE POLLUTION? Its a shame that a town with so much water can’t keep its shore clean of sewage, and even more of a shame that it is elected politicians, council officials and government bodies who should have cleaned up the mess caused by the town’s sewage pollution, seem, in many cases, not to bother! Even when the European court found that Llanelli was polluting its own estuary against the EU and UK environmental laws , what has happened? As far as I can see, very little. Rainscape was probably selected as the cheapest option . Why then was the aquifer missed on the geological survey ? In a town noted for its aquifers, why not check where they are, before spending millions? Members of the Llanelli Flood Forum have recently submitted written and detailed questions to Welsh Water/Dwr Cymru on the subject of why the major component of Rainscape is yet to be completed? WWDC have replied saying that rather than reply in writing, they would like to show us a presentation some time in the future. I really would like detailed answers and I'm sure Welsh Water have someone who can write? If Rainscape had worked and the water was getting cleaner, we would know about it. It would be a triumph for Welsh Water, it would be on the news. Silence from public bodies usually means that they don't want to talk about that topic, and the main reason we don't hear about these matters is that something has gone wrong. Like the UK Government finding out that the £200 million private matched funding for the Wellness Centre maybe didn't really exist, for instance. The Truth would be nice. Cllr Sian Caiach Llanelli Rural Councillor for Hengoed Ward 01554 785046

Sunday 29 November 2020

To Save the NHS from collapse we have trashed our economy, Why?

So overwhelming has the covid 19 pandemic been that Health Services have not been able to cope. It is too late to wind back the clock. In a future pandemic hopefully the UK will close its borders more quickly, and not allow foreign holidays to re-infect the country. We also need to make investments to stop infectious diseases destrying our livelihoods. This is unlikely to be a "one time" crisis. Llanelli, my local town, has less footfall and more beggars, hard times for many. The banking district of Frankfurt is a long way from Llanelli but both face a real economic threat from this crisis, and even Frankfurt has beggars on the street. This crisis is definately worse in the UK because of mismanagement of our NHS. Staffed by heroes and led by the blind.
To "save the NHS" we are enduring lock downs and serious economic damage where we can least afford it. The income of the people must suffer, the economy must take a big hit or the NHS will be “overrun” by sick people infected by Covid 19, and none of us will get decent healthcare.Many of us are already not getting good healthcare, suffering on waiting lists, unable to see clinicians and having problems with access to prescriptions and other basic services. Why can’t the NHS cope?
The Truth is that the NHS is no longer a “health service” in the round, Constant cuts by governments, both red and blue in the last decades,“reorganisations “, supposedly to” increase efficiency “have stripped services. New management structures with the emphasis on economy and the removal of most doctors and nurses from representation on the executive boards has led to a service which far from promoting health throughout our communities, simply “deals” with the sick guided more by fiscal goals than the true welfare of the population. Much of the NHS estate has been sold off for development and there has been no real planning for massive health emergencies other than a possible influenza epidemic. Now, to disguise the fact that the hospitals and GP s can’t cope, we have to prevent community viral disease by personal isolation, social distancing and reducing human to human contact. A virus parasite needs a host to live in, multiply and ideally have a chance to release the new generation before the host’s immune system wipes them out. We are reduced to similar methods as those used to control the Black Death.
The economic consequences of lock down are grave, especially in areas of Wales where hospitality and tourism are big employers. Citizens unlucky enough to develop common serious diseases now, such as cancer and heart ailments may suffer delayed diagnosis and treatment, and add to the mortality and morbidity and distress , simply because the NHS cannot give them decent and timely treatment, as covid swamps all. After the first days of Covid 19, when huge efforts were made in Wales to construct field hospitals for which there did not seem to be either staff or patients, there is no clear health policy except “keep away from other humans” until the vaccines come. WE MUST CHANGE THE NHS SO THIS DOES NOT HAPPEN AGAIN Where are the plans to rebuild general capacity and infectious disease units within the NHS? This would help to stop new diseases spreading in the future, protect staff from infection, and allow control of future outbreaks without stopping treatment for all the other illnesses and injuries.Years of asset stripping have oriduced a system which cannot cope. A vaccine may help but it is not here yet. The virus may become endemic, may mutate and be a player in many winters to come. We cannot and must not repeat the “shut everything down” when any new infection arrives. Management discarded the old isolation hospitals, closed the convalescent wards and sold off everything else we could have used for extra capacity. We have no replacement state of the art infectious diseases units. Instead we have had multiple outbreaks of Covid 19 in our own hospitals, which were never built to prevent the spread of novel airborne infections like Covid. William Beverage and Aneirin Bevan planned and set up a welfare state in the 1940’s said to be available “From the Cradle to the Grave”. It has been recently been found seriously wanting. The grand ambitions have run aground not only because of a new virus, but also because the NHS has been failed both by our own Government in Wales and across the other UK nations. It has been whittled down to the cheapest options using the least inpatient treatment. Care in the community, works well for many chronic diseases. It certainly does not work for virulent infectious diseases, in fact it can spread them efficiently to the most vulnerable . The Welsh NHS has been emasculated, whittled to the bone, and was unprepared when a pandemic struck. If you keep cutting any service , the point comes when it can’t cope. Stressed, it is no longer fit for purpose. In fact some of the health management actions in this epidemic made things much worse, decimating care homes by sending them infected cases and even in hospitals professional staff were often infected by their own colleagues and their patients, in wards never designed to house serious infectious cases. The Welsh NHS needs a change of direction and cries out for leadership. (these are trainee doctors in Iceland where they do try to train enough doctors from their own country )
We are living in a nightmare caused by those who apparently had little interest in maintaining our NHS , our first line protection from disease and infection, paid for by our taxes. Where was the oversight, who was watching out for us? Can we even trust our Welsh Government to make good the mistakes and lack of resources that brought us here? The sticking plasters are being applied, but without major changes in the NHS, and planning properly for the future, we may repeat the nightmare all over again. Air travel will one day re-start, the economy will take the hit and recover, but the threat of another similar infection will still be there. We need to learn the lessons from this. Vaccines, drugs and the new treatment paths will probably help control Covid 19. But without an NHS infrastructure to isolate and treat new diseases, or resurgent old ones, we can easily find ourselves in the same nightmare by still running an NHS system with only “Just enough” to provide the minimum standard care, with no slack at all. We need a few empty emergency wards, some extra convalescent wards, all of which which could be used routinely for other uses but re-utilised quickly at short notice. How about a Welsh infectious disease centre with the proper staff compliment, and every hospital having some isolation cubicles where patients can safely be treated but disease cannot leak out to infect other patients and staff. When we don’t have an outbreak these specialist staff could tour the country,’giving lectures, training and checking readiness. This would probably cost less than the many field hospitals and emergency morgues built in haste and never used. Managers hate empty buildings and underutilized areas , but the nature of healthcare is that the needs are always changing, and disasters happen.. Keeping a few isolated empty wards, training a couple more infectious disease specialists won’t break the bank, but may save the economy in future. Many people have died with Covid. Many others have died or are expected to die because they could not access timely medical treatment for many other diseases such as cancer. Others have suffered severe mental stress and utter despair due to the social and economic wounds of the outbreak.
Could Wales cope in the future? The lack of NHS capacity and proper planning for pandemic emergencies has made a bad situation a lot worse . As a small country we could probably have done a lot better , and hopefully in the future we will. A manageable population of around 3 million and a country which can easily share knowledge and resources and in emergencies transport and share staff and kit around.Wales has decided not to train sufficient docotrs and nurses for reasons that are officially unknown.I suspect it simply is to save money- Why train our own doctors and nurses when we cam attract health workers from other counrtries by our high salaries?The UK has the best paid doctors outside of the USA. Why bother to trin our own when other countries do it for us? We have built a Welsh Health service with artificial boundaries and barriers to sharing and co-operation , unnecessary duplication of scarce resources in some cases ,We certainly have been selling off the family silver for a pittance in a vain attempt to balance the books of individual Health Boards with little consideration of the Health of the Nation as a whole. A vaccination program will be rolled out, the virus may well be checked and case numbers drop. Victory will be announced and the problem temporarily reduced, and even perhaps a new bank holiday to celebrate, "Covid day", But the NHS itself is sick in many ways and we need to mend it before then next new infectious disease arrives. But if the lack of capacity in the Welsh NHS itself is not addressed , if our scarce resources are not husbanded , and short term financial savings allowed to trump future quality improvements, the armistice will be only temporary. Another enemy may yet appear in similar guise and once more expose the poverty of our ambitions to keep our people safe for the long term.
Dr Sian Caiach

Sunday 8 November 2020

The Wellness Project becomes the Breezy Village but new flood warnings may drown development

The Llanelli "Wellness Project" was a scheme to build housing for the elderly, a leisure centre, and a Health Sciences based business park.It was part of a well funded City Deal sponsored by UK Goverment and led by Carmarthenshire County Council and their Council's Chief Executive Mark James. There were said to be links with Swansea University, various drug companies, and a Kuwaiti Private Hospital and Medical School. The project needed £200 million pounds of private matched funding. Mysteriously the firm allegedly chosen to front up this money, Sterling Health, appeared to be a registered Company with no large assets and considerable debt. The planning application was delayed by NRW as the site of the development, a former dock area used as a refuse dump yeaars before, had not been properly asseessed and tested for contamination. The UK Goverment seems to have noticed the lack of the £200 milllion matched funding required for the grant aid to go ahead. The project was shelved. Image below is of the proposed "Wellness and Life Science Village" as it should have looked on completeion
Mr Mark James resigned after NRW delayed the development, in order for the County council to properly evaluate the site. Undeterred, the Council's Executive Board led by Plaid Cymru councillor, Emlyn Dole, rebranded the project as "Pentre Awel", Breezy Village, and clearly intended to build some residential units and other features on the site. The site area is adjacent to the shore of the Loughor estuary, the lake's lock gates have been neglected and left in an open position, allowing the waters to become tidal. Sea levels are rising and the flooding risks have increaased acording to NRW. Surely a safer site will now be found, as the original plan for housing was for the elderly? As you see in the photos below, the site is still undeveloped. There has been some fly tipping but it could be a beautiful site for leasure and wildlife if it was cleaned up and landscaped. Mr Mark James has remarked that the choice of site was due to the fact the 40 qcres of land was already owned by the council. Where else could he find land so cheap?
Wales' environmental organisation, Natural Resources Wales issues new guidance regularly on the likelihood of development site flooding and flood risks across the whole of Wales. This shows the large lake in the site as a likely flood risk and surely makes the development far less attractive to the housing and scientific buildings planned. The best use for the land, which may have been contaminated by the landfil process, is surely parkland and recreational activities. A great deal of money has likely been spent on the promotion of this site, which has failed to materialise due to lack of local funding, and probably an over ambitious plan to build a science park reliant on outside funding and foriegn private medical financial support which in the end did not materialise either from Kuwait or the Uk based Sterling Health. It turned out that the Kuwaiti firm had not yet built their private hospital and medical school and threatened to sue Swansea University, who had offered to host the Kuwaiti students in the UK, for damages, as their construction project in the Gulf was also stalled by the delay.
County and Borough Councils are often the recipients of grants for economic development and other projects, but this case shows that they can fail when the projects are not properly researched and "partners" are recommended who are unknown to the Councillors, and turn out to be unreliable. There was no detailed plan shown to councillors on the costs and opportunities. Why should Kuwaiti students come to Llanelli to study? Why did drug companies wish to hire the units the council would build? Why site a new leisure centre and retirment home for Llanelli so far out of town? This project has attracted the interest of Tarian, the welsh police fraud squad, who are investigating the County Council's involvement and Swansea University have taken disciplinary action against accademic staff involved. The process of police investigation of this strange project and its participants is not completed but hopefully there will be answers one day !

Tuesday 20 October 2020

Covid 19 - why was the NHS so unready?

WHY WAS THE NHS SO POORLY PREPARED FOR COVID 19? Another lock down is about to start in Wales as many areas here display rising levels of Covid infection. Only Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion seen to have relatively low levels of new infections.
THE NHS WAS SET UP WHEN INFECTIOUS DISEASES WERE MAJOR KILLERS When Aneurin Bevan set up the NHS infectious diseases caused a great deal of death ans disability. Hospitals and sanatoriums were built to house and isolate the sick with infectious diseases. Tuberculosis, menigitis, septicaemia and polio were commonplace. Better living conditions, routine vaccinations and the development of antibiotics have led to a steep decline in infectious diseases but we know now, to our cost that we should have prepared better for the pandemic we have now. The risk has been ignored. When I was a medical sturdent there were still hospitals treating large numbers of patients in iron lung ventilators after polio had paralysed their breathing muscles. As a consultant I still saw a few patients cripled by polio as children. Nowadays polio is a rare infection and only a few dozen cases are repoted worldwide annually. some of the old diseases still occur, but a combination of healthier populations, vaccintions and prompt treatments and isolation have kept the numbers low in the West.
 Sars2/Covid 19 , is the virus that is causing so much trouble, Boris Johnson's "invisible mugger". A coronavirus originally from bats which was discovered in December 2019 in the customers of a wet market in Wuhan. Although some groups are more prone to serious complications and death, anyone can catch it. As plagues go, the death rate is modest – about 1% and falling as better treatments are found, but the groups most prone to serious complications and death , the elderly, obese, hypertensive, transplant recipients, cancer patients, etc can only avoid catching the disease by hiding from the invisible killer. As a large proportion of those infected by Covid 19 are asymptomatic, but infectious, some totally and others in the early days of the disease before they feel ill, every fellow human could be a possible source of the infection. You cannot tell who has it. Also. Test,track and isolate is much harder when many pass on the virus not even knowing they ever wwere infected.
HOW DO WE GET RID OF IT? In the absence of a "magic bullet treatment" at present we can only use the information we have about the virus to try to stop the tranmission. We know it is spread from person to person, mainly airborne, and so contact with others indoors, from outside our households is pretty dangerous. Social distancing and face coverings may well help but thre is no easy solution as yet. An effective vaccine would be great and as the doctors of the world learn more about the virus more drugs and therapies to save lives will emerge.
WHY WASN'T THE NHS READY FOR THIS? It was not ready for an entirely new, highly infectious virus despite the warnibg in 2002-3 of SARS 1, a very similar virus outbreak mainly in Asia and spread by air transport. THe UK only had 4 cases and no deaths. World wide it killed 700 people and had a 10% mortality.People were usually very ill with it, and it had a short interval between catching it and falling ill - 2 days rather than the 14 days or more of SARS.2. Test,track and trace worked well, and it was eradicated. It is now obvious that no governments or scientists yet have the instruments with which to permanently eradicate the SARS2-Covid19 virus. We are, for the time being, stuck with it, probably for at least a year or 2 and maybe longer. Lock downs, social distancing, masks, hand gel etc can slow it down, but that is all. New treatments and drugs are improving survival rates but not stopping all the deaths. Something like this has not been seen in recent times in the West and was something not expected by the NHS, . Pandemics are not unknown, far from it, but all of the UK have deliberately run down infectious disease services and isolation units, to save money, as governments of all colours have demanded NHS “efficiencies ” , otherwise known as cuts.
As these hospitals and units were closed, instead of being mothballed, they were generally sold off, often to developers, usually for building private housing to generate funds for whatever the NHS managers of the day desired. So both the extra space needed for isolation wards and the expertise in this new disease had to be built and learned fast by essentially unprepared health providers, whose previous policy was seemingly to ignore the threat .
Also, the growth of care homes and early discharge from hospital to other care in the community” has meant less medical supervision of the sick, This also allowed further asset stripping of the NHS, closing more geriatric wards and in general, reducing the choices for patients and increasing waiting lists for inpatient procedures. There was no slack in the system as any slack was pounced upon as an “efficiency saving” and eradicated. The effect of this general policy of the NHS has been, even pre-Covid, in many cases an increase the stress on the staff and a decease in the quality of care. Its a poor economy as leaving patients for long periods on waiting lists means that many deteriorate and need more treatment and some may even be told they are beyond cure. Only the private sector benefit from this, but unlike the USA, private medicine in the the UK rarely offers emergency treatments and has very little intensive care facility. Not much use in a pandemic.
LIONS LED BY LABRADOODLES [Labradoodles being dogs beloved by the wealthy middle classes and noted for enthusiastic devotion to their masters] After years of delivering healthcare on the cheap, but senior mangerial salaries keeping Aneurin Bevan spinning in his grave, the wake up call has come in the form of Covid. This virus does not fit with the plans of our healthcare managers. The NHS is unused to quck emergency responses to a real health crisis and here in Wales the response was building field hospitals which were mainly unused and so stayed empty. I supect general guidance was poor, and panic high, as local facilities were overwhelmed by severely ill patients with an unusual dispaly of symptoms and complications that no-one had been taught in medical school.
Our healthcare is managed overwhelmingly by a board of bureaucrats appointed by other bureaucrats who then appoint a token doctor and nurse to join them, with one or 2 trusted “members if the public” who are usually persons of note, and hardly representative of the public at large. Certainly no-one on a health board appears directly accountable to the public. Our front line staff are truly lions led by labradoodles, People who selflessly throw themselves into the battle against the virus are led by people selected for their talents of subservience to government and ability to look good while burying incompetence in platitudes and propaganda. We actually have had pandemic committees all over the UK, including Wales . They were planning for pandemic flu. When this virus is under control our planning for the next new infectious illness will hopefully be focussed more widely and our NHS more resilient. Its time for the NHS to become a more open and democratic system and accountable to those whose taxes pay for it IF OUR HEALTH BOARDS WERE ELECTED, NOT APPOINTED, WOULD THIS HAVE HAPPENED?
The answer is, that we would not have dodged the virus, but honesty about the clinical situation and wider and more open public discussion could have changed the atmosphere in which the public were asked to make the serious sacrifices necessary to stabilise the situation. Breaking bad news is never easy, but playing down a disaterous situation destroys trust. In our current position trust, and the confidence of the people, have to be won and kept.
If the Health Boards have a majority of elected members,{they may still need a senior doctor and nurse to consult) the board members will be people voted in whose conduct can be examined and judged.If they succeed they are rewarded, if they fail, they face replacement. In much of public service, deficiencies seem to be hidden rather than exposed and consequences for failure may be a quiet early retirement and a generous pension. A little more openness may actually inprove the relationship between the public and the public servants who we pay for. Without the trust and full cooperation of ordinary citizens everywhere, this crisis will last longer than it needs to, and none of us want that!
Dr. Siân Caiach Mob 07925 888053 Home 01554 785046
Postscript : A reecent Guardian Article claims that Labradoodles are in fact, genetically mainly poodles, who could have guessed?

Wednesday 2 September 2020

The Big Stink

IN 2016, after 8 years of a legal action at the European Court, the UK Government was convicted of being in breach of the EU Urban Waste Water Directive in Llanelli,
a law which states that all urban sewage should be completely treated before discharge into any body of water. Not only was the local sewage treatment provider Welsh Water, spilling raw sewage into the Loughor Estuary/Burry Inlet but it was also aware that this site was supposedly a nature reserve and major Cockle fishery with E.U, Natura status. In Llanelli, an inadequate new sewage treatment plant had been in operation since 1997 , replacing many smaller ones and using UV light to kill the bugs. As the town grew with much new housing the sewage discharges increased. The rich cockle fishery was greatly diminished and in 2005 a mass cockle death event occurred known as the “big Stink” when millions of cockles rose to the surface of the Loughor estuary, died and rotted THe picture seems to show a shingle beach.It is the shells of millions of dead cockles in 2005. As this was Wales,huge efforts were made to hide the inadequacy of the local sewage system. Several reports suggested all sorts of reasons other than the sewage that could be killing the cockles and other wildlife. One of the worst deceptions was blaming, a “new” protozoal parasite Minchinia Mercinaria which was was said by a National Resources Wales officer to have caused havoc in the clam beds of Virginia. When I tracked down the scientific paper and its authors the organism had in fact not killed a single clam. The USA clam fishery is major business and “High Tech”. The “new” microscopic parasite was not a new organism to the world. It had been found in a routine sample of 180 juvenile hard clams. One of them had a small infection. Electron microscopy showed it had a new variant of a Minchinia parasite not yet described in the literature. The Virginia studies showed it to be harmless,,with 30% of other clams in the group showing antibodies to it having made a complete recovery. The only clams that died were those deliberately killed and dissected to find the parasites and antibodies The researchers realised that it was not a new organism as reports of it came in from all over the world when they published their techniques, and findings, including Llanelli. It could not have spread worldwide so quickly from Virginia but our local Cockle gatherers were blamed for bringing it in to the cockle beds on their boots. The fact that the Americans had shown it to be of no commercial significance, ie harmless to their fisheries, was kept from the public. Other theories included suicide by oversexed cockles, however the deaths were seasonal and similar to other sewage polluted waterways, where algal blooms reduce oxygen levels, suffocating shellfish.and other water dwellers.. The County Council Senior Officers must have been fully aware and kept on encouraging the Councillors to grant planning permission for more new houses, mainly for incomers , telling the county Councillors that more homes meant more council tax. A case was accepted by the European Court in 2008 in the name of Mr David Conrad Rees, Chair of the Sandy and Stradey Residents Committee, representing an area where sewage flooding was a serious problem.. He was joined by local cockle hand gatherers, many of whom had lost much their fishing grounds After 8 years of excuses and denials in Carmarthenshire,,the UK Government accepted guilt. Members of the public had to fight to prove the breach in EU rules. Welsh Water submitted a plan to provide more sewage treatment without the huge expense of building a new sewage treatment plant. It was called “Rainscape”. The idea was to remove surface water from the sewers by draining it away in a new pipe . The major element of Rainscape, the digging of a 1.5metre drainage tunnel to drain the groundwater from south Llanelli, has stalled and Rainscape has not yet been completed. The problem is that the drilling rig  appears to have hit one of the large aquifers which lie under the town and had somehow been missed  in the surveying of the tunnel route. This aquifer was uncharted and very large and extends under the train station and railway tracks. I have seen the Morgan Sindall report showing that there are difficulties in extracting this water and essentially nowhere to safely pump it to, at the time of writing the report, It also runs the danger of shifting the existing rail tracks if a void is formed beneath them. High groundwater levels are also a problem and could quickly refill the aquifer. There are ways of puttting a tunnel through an area like this but I am told these are civil engineering projects of high cost and some risk. Has Welsh Water got the funds to do this? This has meant that the last section of the Rainscape tunnel remains unfinished. As this is the scheme designed to produce the  improvement demanded by the European Court .There is no news. The Scheme cost over £90 million. . I’m concerned that raw sewage is still being discharged into the Burry Inlet and there is no sign of a plan B. Even more worrying is the County Council appears to have given planning permission for numerous buildings in the Llanelli catchment area over the past few years without checking that any improvement in sewage discharges had been achieved, surely adding  to the foul sewage loads into a Natura Wildlife site, and likely further deterioration of the very poorly "protected" habitats.  In Welsh tradition there have been few surveys of the wildlife or bacterial water quality studies – if you don’t look maybe no-one will notice! Llanelli Beach was last tested, I believe in 2009 , and the numbers of bacteria were so high the Council stopped testing. It is not a designated bathing beach and as it is owned by the council, who know it is probably still polluted, with never ne allowed to be. However, it is used for bathing and paddling by visitors. I have asked the County Council for the beach water to be tested many times. Unfortunately only "designated bathing beaches" are regulated and have regular testing, Llanelli Beach does not qualitf.
To me this looks like the Rainscape project has, at best , stalled and at worst, failed .I can see why it is difficult to dig the tunnel under the station but surely we should know the prognosis of the scheme? If it has failed or been seriously delayed it has significant planning implications and a new way must be found to clean up the estuary, instead of deliberately worsening of the pollution of our estuary. As the health of the Estuary is not regularly tested it could simply be declared “dead”, of no wildlife value and that I suspect , may be the goal, an argument o allow the pollution as much of the habitat has already been destroyed. It has been suggested to me that the project is on stop as Welsh Water hopes that leaving the EU will negate the findings against the UK in the European Court. Why do our elected Councillors allow the Burry Inlet to be an open sewer? I’d love to see it returned to a clean wildlife haven and prosperous fishery..The UK Government has accepted that there was a serious breach of the E.U. Urban Waste Water Directive in Llanelli , and expected Welsh Government,,through NRW as the regulating body and Welsh Water as the polluter, to remedy the situation long ago. Something has gone wrong and no-one is telling! It appears. very little has been done as requested by the European Court.. Welsh Water explain that without the frequent sewage spills into the estuary Llanelli would flood again with sewage and the pollution of the estuary and fishery is therefore necessary to preserve public health. What sort of 3rd world country do we live in?