WITH winter on its way, an extra £20 million is to be handed to health boards in Wales to help them prepare.

Of the investment announced by health and social services secretary Vaughan Gething on Tuesday, £16 million will be given to health boards while the remaining £4 million will be used for Wales-wide schemes including increasing capacity in A&E departments and work to extend the availability of out-of-hours primary care services.

This is on top of £5 million announced earlier this month to support critical care units and £10 million for social services.

Speaking in the Assembly on Tuesday Mr Gething said he was making the announcement as early as possible so healthcare teams could put preparations in place.

"Last winter was one of the most difficult that our health and care services have faced in several years and saw increased challenges to front line staff," he said.

"This was not, however, unique to Wales as health services across the UK were put under immense strain.

"Significant snowfall and freezing conditions, increased demand for GP and emergency care services, increased admissions to hospitals for older people with complex conditions and the largest number of flu cases since the pandemic of 2009 meant our NHS and social care system was under unprecedented pressure.

"Despite these pressures, the majority of people accessing health and social care services during last winter received timely and safe care. This is testament to the thousands of committed staff working in often difficult circumstances, often going above and beyond what could reasonably be expected of them to deliver professional and compassionate care."

He continued planning for this winter had been ongoing since last winter, with each health board developing its own plan. This year the British Red Cross will be supporting staff and patients in A&E, while St John Cymru Wales will be working alongside the Welsh Ambulance Service to respond to people who have suffered minor injuries in falls.

Mr Gething said: "There is no reason to think that this winter will be any less challenging than previous years.

"However, the plans we have come from partnership between our NHS, local authorities, the third sector and government.

"The combination of local and national actions should provide increased resilience against the inevitable pressures that will come over the winter months.

"As ever, it is our aim and that of our dedicated staff, to make sure that our patients continue to access the care they require, when they need it."