Mark Drakeford was in the Siambr this afternoon, fielding questions from Senedd members.

Here's a round-up of the day's headlines:

Damning Westminster report turns up the heat

The UK Government was left red-faced today by a new report from two MPs' committees into the pandemic response, elements of which were described as "as one of the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced".

A full UK-wide inquiry into the handling of the pandemic is being prepared for next spring, and so far Mark Drakeford has resisted calls – from opposition Senedd members and from bereaved families of coronavirus patients – for an additional Wales-only inquiry.

Those calls were revived in the Siambr today, when Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price noted Wales had followed Westminster in the early days of the pandemic, including the "fatal error" to abandon community testing last March.

"Do you accept that it would have been better during that early phase of the pandemic to have followed your own policy in Wales, independent of Westminster?" Price asked.

Drakeford, who hadn't read the UK report before this afternoon's session, said he would with hindsight have "acted earlier" to bring in restrictions, but "we didn't know those things then – we were following the advice that we had at the time".

Price pushed the matter of a Wales-only Covid inquiry, noting the MPs had referenced Wales "just nine times" in their 147-page report.

"Without it, if we delegate to Westminster, the experiences of the bereaved families that you met last week, First Minister, will simply be forgotten, and the lessons for Wales that should be learnt will be lost," he added.

Drakeford said he had been "very clear" with the UK Government that Wales would need to be " a full and comprehensive manner" in the UK inquiry.

"I'm hoping to have a face-to-face meeting with the Prime Minister within the next coming days, and I plan to use that opportunity to make these points directly to him," he added.

Families left in the cold this winter

Fuel poverty could become a reality for many low-income families this winter, as rising prices add around £700 to annual energy bills.

The first minister said this would increase hardship on the least wealthy, on top of losing the £20 Universal Credit weekly uplift – the equivalent of £1,000 a year. 

Opposition to the Universal Credit decision extends beyonds politics, but the UK's devolved governments have presented a united front, writing a joint letter to Boris Johnson, urging him to reconsider.

Those calls have fallen on deaf ears, with the UK Government's position being that the £20 weekly uplift was a temporary measure designed to help people during the worst of the pandemic – and now that has passed, there is no need for it anymore.

But Drakeford today called it "the single largest cut in welfare for over 70 years" and said "you have to go back to the 1930s to find a government that was prepared to load the burden of addressing the financial circumstances of the nation onto the shoulders of those least able to bear it in this way".

The Welsh Government will relaunch its benefit take-up campaign at the end of the month and run it throughout the winter, educating and supporting people to claim the assistance for which they are eligible.

By the end of the month, it will also fund 35 full-time equivalent new welfare benefit advisers for Advice Cymru to support the campaign, Drakeford said.

Frustration over long GP waiting lists 

Drakeford heard questions, from Labour MS Sarah Murphy and Tory MS Paul Davies, on patient waiting times to see their GP.

Davies said the pandemic had "exposed the fact that there are not enough doctors and staff in primary care", and despite ongoing recruitment this would be "little comfort to those patients waiting day in, day out to book an appointment".

He said there were reports of people waiting up to an hour on the phone to speak to someone, only then to be turned away because the next day's appointments were all taken.

The ongoing problem existed before the pandemic, Davies said, and was having a knock-on effect on secondary healthcare, too.

"The future of GP services – GPs in that narrow sense – lies in our ability to recruit more people into the profession, and to train here in Wales," Drakeford said, but "primary care cannot depend on GPs alone".

Despite the "very healthy" figures around recent recruitment, a "focus exclusively on GPs will not give us the sustainable future for primary care that we need here in Wales".

Drakeford said Wales would need to diversify its primary care workforce by creating a "mix of professionals who will be at the front line", including physiotherapists, pharmacists, advanced practice nurses and paramedics.

This will ensure "right sort of help is available to the patient far quicker than if we were simply to be relying on the model that has served us well up until now, but that is reaching the end of its exclusive usefulness", he added.

Warm wishes to Tory leader

Finally, there were cross-party messages of support to Welsh Conservatives leader Andrew RT Davies, who announced last week he was taking a break from politics for health reasons.

Paul Davies, who will serve as acting leader on a temporary basis, asked the Senedd to "join me in sending our very best wishes to our colleague".

Drakeford said he was "sending our very best wishes" on behalf of the Welsh Government and the Labour Party, and "I hope to see him back in his place in the Chamber as swiftly as he feels able to do that."

Adam Price, in his message of support, said: "Many people will have taken courage and inspiration from him speaking openly about the challenges that he's facing with his own mental and emotional well-being, something, of course, that many of us will face at different times in our life."

And Jane Dodds, the Welsh Liberal Democrats, said she and her party was sending "our best wishes to Andrew R.T. Davies in his recovery and thank him for his very bold and clear statements in terms of his mental health".

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