By Llyr Gruffydd

MS for North Wales

As we face another winter of pressure on our health service, I want to focus on the staff who are expected to deliver all these additional vaccines. These are the health professionals who have responded to this pandemic by rolling up their sleeves and putting others before their own health.

There are many challenges that are new but what's been a constant in recent years is the understaffing we face in the north Wales region that I represent. The latest Royal College of Nursing figures estimate there are more than 500 nursing vacancies in Betsi Cadwaladr health board.

Ensuring we have enough nurses, doctors and other health professionals here in the North is a priority for me - I've been campaigning for the past 10 years to ensure we have more nurse training facilities in the region as well as supporting Plaid Cymru's call for a medical school in Bangor. I'm pleased to say we've secured that and expanded training places for nurses, paramedics and other health professionals in Glyndwr University at Wrexham. However, that doesn't address the immediate problem as it will take years to train up sufficient staff to meet ever-increasing demand.

The other key element is retaining existing staff.

Understaffing means more work for those who are still on the frontline and goodwill has been drained over the years.

Agency and bank nursing papers over the cracks but doesn't solve the underlying issue - we need to use the vast amounts of money spent on agencies to employ more nurses within BCUHB.

The RCN's figures demonstrate that £69m was spent on agencies in Wales in 2019 - enough to pay for 2,691 newly qualified nurses.

The other critical factor is pay. Nurses and other health professionals have faced pay freezes and below-inflation pay rises for a decade. A proper pay rise will assist in retention and recruitment, which is why Plaid Cymru is backing the calls for the Welsh Government to go above and beyond the 3% offer.