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Ambulances at breaking point

ambulancesWHILE controversy continues about the tragic death of Wayne Young (see page x) on New Year’s Day, The Herald has spoken to several sources who have told the same story again and again: that the Ambulance Service has been pushed to the breaking point and beyond over recent weeks. One concerned member of staff told us that ambulances based in Pembrokeshire have been forced to cover incidents in Ceredigion and as far afi eld as Llandeilo, as Carmarthenshire-based ambulances have been overwhelmed by calls to Swansea and beyond.

AMBULANCES FILL THE GAPS’ 

Five ambulances are rotated to cover Pembrokeshire. However, demands from outside the County and long waits at Glangwili for ‘emergency admissions’, mean Pembrokeshire has been left hopelessly exposed with fewer available than are required to be on duty. Pictures have appeared in the Welsh media of a dozen ambulances queued up outside Morriston, each with a patient waiting for admission to Accident & Emergency. A similar, but less dramatic situation has recently occurred at Glangwili, with a Pembrokeshire ambulance waiting for more than two hours to unload an ill patient. The Herald has also uncovered that in Christmas week only one third of the most urgent ‘Red’ cases were reached within the eight minutes target set by the Welsh Government. The problems with the Ambulance Service have called into question the viability of the Board’s ‘Designated Ambulance Vehicle’ (DAV). The Herald understands that although twelve vacancies were advertised to crew the DAV, there has been difficulty in acquiring long term staff for the service and that at least two replacement posts have recently gone out to advertisement.

LOCAL GP VOICES CONCERNS

Dr Dan Weaver, a GP at the Robert Street practice in Milford Haven, posted his family’s experience on the Save Withybush Hospital Team’s (SWAT) Facebook page: “One of my children has been really poorly recently. “At the weekend they had been really wheezy with a croupy upper respiratory tract infection, but abruptly got a lot worse and they went into a degree of respiratory distress, really struggling to breath to the point where they were vomiting with the effort and lips had bluish tinge. “We live approximately 12 minutes from Withybush and last year in a similar situation I would have run her to the car and driven to A&E in case she needed nebulising/oxygen support etc. This was not an option as it was after 10pm. “West Wales General is more like a 45-50 minute drive. “I am medically trained but would not have fancied risking her worsening further in a cold car while I drove to Carmarthen as I could still be potentially over half an hour from help – additionally I realised that I would need to fi ll up with petrol to get to Carmarthen as my tank was virtually empty. I gave her oral steroids and salbutamol, we tried to keep her calm and called an ambulance. “The ambulance took over 30 minutes to come because it had to come from Carmarthen. Apparently all the Pembrokeshire ambulances were in Carmarthenshire and stuck in Llanelli (this was according to the crew who attended who were fantastic). “She was already starting to improve a little when the ambulance crew arrived thankfully as the steroids were beginning to kick in. She’s still pretty poorly but breathing better than a couple of days ago. “I felt it important to share this as I think there are two key points about the current situation that I think are worth underlining: Firstly it does not seem that ambulance provision is anything like appropriate considering the increased demands on the ambulance service from reduced local jobs & gynae/paediatric services. Ambulances from the county seem routinely being used to cover other regions which leaves Pembrokeshire very exposed. “Secondly I think it may be worth anyone who looks after a child (or is pregnant or knows someone who is pregnant) in Pembrokeshire making sure they always have enough fuel to get to Carmarthen quickly in the event of an unforeseen emergency. This is not something which I had really clearly thought about before Saturday night; but I think is increasingly relevant and could make the difference between recovery and tragedy.”

CONCERNS FOR EXPECTANT MUMS 

An expectant mum contacted The Herald this week and told us that mums to- be are being told to consider opting to give birth in Withybush to ease pressures on the DAV and ensure that maternity services remain in Pembrokeshire. She told us that she feels midwives have been trying to plant the seed for mums to stay in Pembrokeshire, despite accepting that birth at Withybush might be no safer than having a home birth attended by a midwife. She also said that midwives have been telling expectant mothers that staff shortages at Glangwili mean that aftercare is poorer than at Withybush and that there is pressure on staff to turnaround beds too quickly. Rebecca (name changed) said: “I made the to decision to go to Carmarthen early on in my pregnancy, but when I went to a recent appointment, I felt very confused afterwards after feeling pressured to agree that I would be better off going to Withybush due to the poor aftercare, even though if I needed an emergency caesarean or even an epidural, I wouldn’t be able to have one due to there being nobody qualifi ed to perform the procedure.” Rebecca also reported that she had been led to understand that if people do not use the midwife led unit, it will close all together and there will be nowhere at all to have a baby in Pembrokeshire. The Pembrokeshire Herald reported staff fears on that very point last summer, when the Board closed Withybush’s Special Care Baby Unit and ended consultant-led care at the hospital. Rebecca continued: “I’ve also been told to call the midwife when I go into labour so I can be checked to see when I should go to the hospital, but whenever I call them, whether it be at the doctors surgery or the midwife led unit, nobody has ever answered the phone to me when I call, and I have to leave a message to be picked up later. “The Midwife Led Unit never goes to answerphone and never stops ringing. “What worries me most is that problems can’t always be detected until they’re happening in labour. Expectant mothers in labour are expected to wait until contractions are fi ve to six minutes apart, despite having to travel for up to an hour or even more, with the risk of waters breaking in the car on the way.”

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Dayne Stone

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