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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Row over ambulance response times

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have said that the Welsh ambulance services are “in crisis” as figures published today show yet another decline in ambulance response times, despite pledges by the Welsh Labour Health Minister to improve the service in three months.
 
The figures show that 56.9% of emergency responses to Category A (immediately life-threatening) ambulance calls arrived at the scene within the target time of 8 minutes – down from 58.3% in July 2014 and down from 61.8% in August 2013 – and well below the target of 65%. In England and Scotland the same target is 75%.
 
Kirsty Williams AM, Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, said: “Labour’s Health Minister pleaded to be given three months to improve these terrible ambulance response times. Three months later, and ambulance response times are worsening again. How much more time do Labour Ministers need before they’ll admit that they just can’t run our health service?
 
“These figures are unacceptable. To have only half of immediately life-threatening calls responded to within the 8 minute target time is absolutely unacceptable, and are the mark of an ambulance service in crisis.
 
“With so many problems like stroke and heart attacks, time is absolutely crucial in ensuring the best possible recovery. By failing to buck up on poor ambulance response times, the Welsh Labour Government is draining our NHS by spending money on treatments that could otherwise be avoided.
 
“The Welsh Labour Government’s own target is unambitious and is considerably lower than the equivalent targets in England and Scotland, yet it is still routinely missed.
 
“Ambulance staff work incredibly hard and do an extremely difficult job, but even they privately admit that they’re not being given the resources they need to serve the people of Wales. The threats of a strike show how they are at the end of their tether. The Welsh Labour Government ran out of second chances long ago – we need to see improvement now, as it’s the people of Wales that are suffering under Labour’s watch.”

Mike Collins, Director of Service Delivery at the Welsh Ambulance Service, said: “The service took 36,101 calls during August, up by 494 calls from the same period last year but down by 1,971 calls from the previous month. Of these calls, 14,067 were assessed and categorised as serious and immediately life-threatening.

“Since April the Trust has recruited 79 extra staff into its workforce across Wales, including 21 Paramedics, nine of whom went operational in July and 12 of whom went operational on Monday, plus 12 HEI (Higher Education Institute) Paramedics who are expected to be operational from December. The Trust has also recruited 46 staff into its Urgent Care Service, all of whom will be operational in mid November.

“In addition, a further 21 Paramedics will be appointed in the coming weeks and are expected to be operational by February, and 48 Emergency Medical Technicians will also be officially appointed, some of whom will be operational by December and the remainder by next April. We anticipate that these extra staff will help us to improve our performance and provide a first rate ambulance service for the people of Wales.

“August was the month in which we launched a brand new initiative which allows low acuity patients to access alternative transport to hospital if indeed a hospital visit is required, rather than travel by Emergency Ambulance. The aim is to ensure our emergency crews and vehicles are more readily available to attend immediately life-threatening calls. Since its launch, more than 40 patients who were deemed clinically safe and suitable have travelled to hospital by a taxi in some parts of Wales.

“The Trust is continuing to use other methods of care where possible to reduce unnecessary hospital admissions including Alternative Care Pathways, a system designed to support care closer to patients’ homes. Instead of taking them to hospital, Paramedics can refer patients to their GP or an identified community team using a 24/7 internal telephone service operated by our care coordination staff. More than 5,900 patients have been referred on these Alternative Care Pathways since the scheme launched in September 2012.

“Advanced Paramedic Practitioners also provide a wider range of specialist healthcare at the scene of an incident or at a patient’s home. In addition, the Trust supports the discharge and transfer of patients out-of-hours to release beds in hospitals which, in turn, supports the improvement of patient flow in the emergency departments.

“Resolving handover delays remains our top priority and we are working with all Local Health Boards in Wales to minimise these where possible. Over the summer months we have increased our use of HALOs (Hospital Ambulance Liaison Officers), clinicians and non-clinicians employed by the Trust to ensure individual handover delays are escalated to senior managers at all affected hospitals and that plans are in place to ensure delays are minimised.

“The emergency healthcare system across Wales is under significant pressure and demand for our service remains very high. We recognise that on occasion we fall short of the eight-minute target but are working as hard as we possibly can to get to patients as quickly as possible.

“Once again we urge the public to ‘Choose Well’ and use NHS services appropriately; NHS Direct Wales, out-of-hour GP services and pharmacies are all available for healthcare and advice for minor illnesses and injuries. Please remember only to dial 999 if someone is seriously ill or injured, or their life is at risk.”

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