Last year Senedd Research established a COVID-19 expert register. The register provides us with quick access to academics and experts who support scrutiny of the response to the pandemic and its wider impact.
Earlier this year we asked experts on the register for their views on a range of issues, including gaps in data and research, who’s most at risk, and the key issues in the short, medium, and longer term.
The responses informed the development of our collection ‘What’s next? Key issues for the Sixth Senedd’, and this article summarises the key themes from the 40 responses we received.
A number of respondents raised concerns about how little we know about long COVID. Some called for the establishment of clinics to gather data and explore the efficacy of rehabilitation exercises, as well as supporting patients. Dr Angharad Shaw of Aberystwyth University stated:
“Up to 1 in 3 COVID cases result in some form of long COVID [and] we have no long COVID clinics in Wales […] England already had 69 such clinics in operation or shortly to start up. Per head of population we should therefore be seeing 3 or 4 [long COVID clinics] in Wales.”
The need to understand the impact of long COVID on people returning to work, along with concerns about possible stigma attached to long COVID, was noted by Dr Amira Guirguis of Swansea University’s Medical School.
Many respondents highlighted the growing NHS backlog and rising waiting times as critical issues to be addressed in the next five years. Support for the healthcare workforce, hospital infrastructure, and the impact on other health conditions were also cited as key concerns.
In the short term, ways to increase compliance with public health restrictions, and the framing of messages about vaccination were seen as important by Dr Jiaqing O, of Aberystwyth University’s Psychology School.
Intensive care doctor and research fellow Dr Matt Morgan highlighted the lack of a critical care research centre in any Welsh university as an issue to be addressed in the short to medium term.
Older people and those with health conditions featured heavily in responses as at-risk groups. Ensuring continuity of health services were seen as key to supporting and protecting this group. The impact of restrictions on the health of people with learning disabilities and ways to catch up on annual health checks was noted by Dr Stuart Todd of the University of South Wales.
Professor Ceri Phillips, Head of the College of Human and Health Sciences at Swansea University, pointed out that the health and wellbeing impacts of homeworking are an issue to consider over the next 2 years..
The impact of the pandemic on mental health and access to mental health services were highlighted as key issues by a number of respondents. Dr Diana Beljaars of Swansea University said:
"We need better understandings of how people with certain anxieties and phobia can be helped both during the pandemic and when dealing with its legacies, because their worst fears have come true and they will need specialist help [to cope with] being in public spaces again."
The mental health of pregnant people and new parents was highlighted by Dr Alys Einion-Waller of Swansea University. Professor Debbie Foster of Cardiff University considered that loneliness and isolation caused by the pandemic was an immediate issue to be addressed.
There were calls for better services for young people, people from Black, Asian, and minority ethnic communities, LGBTQIA+ groups, and those who have been bereaved.
A number of respondents raised the need for better technology in schools to support students and teachers with online learning, along with improving poor internet access in some areas, and training for teachers, which was noted by Dr Esyin Chew of Cardiff Metropolitan University. Some thought that harnessing new technology could enhance the overall experience of education.
Professor Harold Thimbleby of Swansea University pointed to the long term impact of education loss on a generation of children, and the potential for it to lead to a ‘cycle of deprivation’. This was echoed by Dr Ruth Atkins of Swansea University, who suggested children could repeat the last academic year to mitigate gaps.
Dr Hiral Patel of Cardiff University questioned what the future of university campuses would be, and some considered how these institutions might adapt to a blended learning model of teaching. Others suggested that universities needed to be more connected to their communities in the future. And the need for lifelong learning was highlighted as being an important part of an individual’s life, especially with fluctuations in the labour market.
Economic recovery and growth also featured heavily in the responses. But there are gaps in understanding how Welsh businesses will cope post-COVID and post-Brexit. According to Dr Louisa Huxtable-Thomas of Swansea University:
“There is little research that has been done in Wales which deals with mid-sized firm resilience or dealing with crisis - however these firms are the crucible of specialist and skilled employment that feeds both smaller and larger firms.”
The travel and tourism sector was pointed to as being in need of particular support by Professor Brian Garrod and others. The impact of the shift to online shopping on certain sectors was emphasised by Dr Vasco Sanchez Rodrigues of Cardiff University.
The potential scarring effects of unemployment on young people was another worry, along with the lack of opportunities for them to progress.
Ideas to promote economic recovery included support for businesses to trade online, venture investment to support growth and improved international engagement. skills.
Many respondents thought that the pandemic had offered a new way of working, pointing towards blended learning and flexible practices of working from home. Some asked how businesses might need to adapt their office spaces depending on how and where work is being done.
Equality and poverty
Many respondents considered it important to identify those most disadvantaged by the pandemic, and to support people at risk of poverty. Some suggested that further powers might need to be devolved to do this effectively.
Respondents pointed to the lack of data disaggregated by disability, gender, and ethnicity in health, employment, poverty, housing and benefits. And Professor Arman Eshraghi of Cardiff University highlighted that we still do not have quality data on how household finances have adapted to the shock.
The gendered effects of changes in the labour market were noted, and in particular the lack of childcare to support women back into work. Dr Alison Parken of Cardiff University also noted the importance of:
“creating apprenticeships and employment programmes that are fully inclusive of diverse participation, for example designing policy and programmes that aim to over-come occupational gender stereotyping in the move to decarbonisation, digitisation and the 'green' economy”.
There was also concern for people living in more deprived areas who have suffered from loss of employment, or being required to self-isolate with little financial support. Many respondents were worried about the pandemic leading to much wider socio-economic gaps between people.
Professor Richard Owen of Swansea University drew attention to groups who have found it hard to access online services such as health, housing, and social welfare advice. These include the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community, older people, people with sensory impairments, and those whose first language is not English.
Professor Debbie Foster of Cardiff University thought that equality and human rights legislation in Wales should be strengthened.
Preparing for the next pandemic
A number of respondents said we need to learn from this pandemic to prepare for the next one , including setting out management templates for the future. Dr Thomas Wooley of Cardiff University said there’s a need to:
“Invest in robust infrastructure, such as a modelling community, and pharmaceutical development that can reduce the next pandemic time scale and hopefully stop it before it happens.”
When the new Senedd Committees are established, they will consider issues like these when setting their work programmes. If you have expertise relating to COVID-19 or its impact in Wales, you can sign up to the register by contacting Hannah Johnson.