Welsh Government exploring possibility of using army to support NHS

The First Minister says his government has opened discussions with the army about helping the NHS in Wales as it deals with the coronavirus outbreak.

Mark Drakeford said he had given his officials the go-ahead to open talks with the Ministry of Defence to find out ways the army could be brought in to help support the health service.

I have given the civil servants the powers, or authority, to approach the Ministry of Defence officially and to set up a new agreement or contract between ourselves and the army here in Wales to receive the assistance and support that they can give and that they are willing to give—support in the planning field.

Mark Drakeford AM, First Minister
Mark Drakeford at a previous press conference

It was also announced that every minister in the Welsh Government will look at their spending plans to free up funds for coping with coronavirus.

Mr Drakeford said that his government will bring forward an emergency supplementary budget because priorities have changed so radically since the final budget was published just a few weeks ago.

And Plaid Cymru has called for the closure of construction sites in Wales "to protect the health and well-being of workers."

On the changes to spending plans, Mr Drakeford was asked by the Conservative leader Paul Davies if he'd reprioritise the Welsh Government's finances.

As the threat of the Coronavirus continues to grow, it's absolutely essential that the Welsh Government now reprioritises its finances urgently to ensure that its resources are spent effectively during the course of this outbreak. Can you, therefore, confirm, First Minister, that the Welsh Government is urgently reprioritising its finances? And, perhaps, I can even suggest that you consider publishing an emergency budget going forward, so that the Government's finances can be refocused on essential services? Because, as you're aware, over the weekend, a number of local authorities have requested additional financial support to tackle this virus.

Paul Davies AM, Welsh Conservative leader

The First Minister confirmed spending plans will change.

As far as finances are concerned, our current intention is to bring forward a supplementary budget to realign Welsh Government budgets with the new and urgent priorities. We are doing exactly what Paul Davies suggested in interrogating every budget that every Minister holds to see what might be able to be released from plans that were previously in place, in order to be able to fund new and more urgent priorities. The Minister for Finance and Trefnydd will meet every portfolio Minister tomorrow in order to hear from them how much money they are able to release to make sure that that is being done in the most rigorous way possible, because we have two priorities and two priorities only. One is to support our essential public services in the efforts they will be making, and the second is to support businesses and people in employment, so that when people emerge from the other side of coronavirus they still have futures and jobs to go to and a prospect in front of them.

Mark Drakeford AM, First Minister

During a radically-altered Assembly meeting attended by very few AMs, the First Minister was offered support from all political parties.

However he did still face questions and challenges, including from Plaid Cymru which raised concerns of builders and others in the construction industry.

Their economy spokesperson called for the Welsh Government to act quickly to close down construction sites here in Wales.

It is impossible to operate most construction sites consistently at a safe distance but unless the Welsh Government issues an order to cease all but essential civil engineering work then contractors will be sued by their clients for late delivery. In a sector dominated by health and safety at work it is unacceptable and unethical to continue asking workers to risk their health and others unnecessarily and risk further spreading the virus.

Helen Mary Jones AM, Plaid Cymru

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know