AS 2021 draws to a close, the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board has looked back on another year dominated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Over the past 12 months, there have been more than 105,000 infections and more than 400 coronavirus-related deaths, according to Public Health Wales data. 

And while the vaccine programme has been largely successful in preventing the return of the most severe restrictions on freedoms this year, the NHS has been placed under enormous pressure due a to a surge in demand for services over the past few months.

Unwanted records for waiting lists and treatment times have been broken, and staff in Gwent have been working non-stop to clear backlogs and deal with a resurgent Covid threat.

“This year has been another particularly challenging one," Glyn Jones, the health board's interim chief executive, told the Argus. "Not only have we had to continue battling through the Covid-19 pandemic, but we’ve also had record numbers of very poorly people requiring services across our health board.

“We have faced, and continue to face, staff shortages, as well as staff sickness and isolation, which has brought about many workforce challenges and has required our staff to go the extra mile once again."

Free Press Series: The Grange University Hospital in Llanfrechfa, Cwmbran.The Grange University Hospital in Llanfrechfa, Cwmbran. (Image: File)

Gwent's health board has also had to adapt to "a new model of healthcare", with critical and emergency care transferred to the new Grange University Hospital, which opened in Cwmbran at the end of 2020.

"This purpose-built, state-of-the-art facility has allowed us to operate much more effectively as we care for the patients who need it most," Mr Jones said.

Amid the ongoing pressures on the NHS, 2021 has also brought "some of our biggest successes", he added, with the health board making huge strides in taking on the "most demanding vaccination programme on record" – some 1.1 million doses have been administered in Gwent since the first vaccine centre opened last December.

There has been progress, too, in cutting waiting times for elective treatments, but there is a long road ahead.

“Our staff across the health board have risen to every one of these challenges and I’d like to thank them all for continuing to go above and beyond in their roles since the beginning of this year," said Mr Jones, who gave special praise for the "commitment and dedication" of everyone involved in the vaccine programme.

Wales is currently preparing for a new wave of infections, driven by the fast-spreading Omicron variant, that is expected to peak in January.

Early research indicates Omicron will lead to less severe illness than the Delta variant that dominated Wales, and the UK, for much of the past year; and the booster jab programme is currently the priority of the NHS.

Free Press Series: Dr Sarah Aitken and Glyn Jones. Pictures: Aneurin Bevan University Health BoardDr Sarah Aitken and Glyn Jones. Pictures: Aneurin Bevan University Health Board

Dr Sarah Aitken is the health board's director of public health and strategic partnerships. She said: “As Omicron cases rise, we continue to ask the public to remain cautious in order to limit the spread as much as possible.

"Throughout the festive period, we’re advising residents to maintain two metre social distancing where possible and wear a mask if not, limit social contacts as much as possible, meet outside or in well-ventilated areas and to undertake lateral flow tests before going out to socialise.

"We are also encouraging every eligible resident to take up the offer of a booster vaccination, so that they are fully vaccinated and armed with the best protection against Covid-19."