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Call to scrap ambulance target

THE WELSH AMBULANCE SERVICE TRUST (WAST) has told AMs that almost 40,000 hours were ‘lost’ in 2014 because of so-called ‘handover delays’. The evidence given to the Senedd’s Health and Social Care Committee on March 5, also reports that the figure is up from around 8,000 hours lost in 2008.

Giving evidence to the assembly’s Health and Social Care Committee on the March 5, WAST’s Chairperson, Mick Giannasi, told AM’s that the ambulance service’s performance is unacceptable. He went on to detail actions intended to tackle ‘long-standing and complex problems’.

The session before the Senedd began with the testimony of Professor Siobhan McClelland, who is chair of the emergency ambulance service committee (EASC) and the author of a 2013 review into emergency transport provision. Suggesting that the eight minute target time for ambulance response times was outdated, she commented: “There is limited evidence to support the existence of the eight-minute target. I think there is a move towards looking specifically, in addition to the eight-minute target, at the most life-threatening or red 1 calls and focusing on those.”

Her contribution was supported by the new ambulance service commissioner, Stephen Harrhy, who said: “There are a number of conditions where it is absolutely essential that we get to a patient as quickly as we possibly can. In some cases, eight minutes is an appropriate time for that; in some cases, it’s less than eight minutes. So, we have to be ambitious. I also think that the standard is an old standard, and it is time to have a re-look at that.”

With reference to the targets, figures for December show that WAST’s ‘unacceptable level of service delivery’ meant that only 42.6% achieved the target time of eight minutes.

One concerned member of staff told us that ambulances based in Pembrokeshire have been forced to cover incidents in Ceredigion and as far afield as Llandeilo, as Carmarthenshire-based ambulances have been overwhelmed by calls to Swansea and beyond.

Shadow Health Minister, Plaid Cymru’s Elin Jones, highlighted the issue of ambulances waiting at hospitals outside their home areas: “I am concerned that ambulances from Blaenau Gwent or Ceredigion or Powys, when they are making transfers to centres, Morriston or Cardiff, then end up as part of the response call in those areas and do not return, possibly for a whole shift, to the areas where they were meant to be serving to start with.”

Without flexibility from unions on staff rosters and cooperation from health boards, WAST’s Chief Executive Tracy Myhill painted a bleak picture: “We need to work with the health boards. We can’t do this on our own, absolutely. If we were perfect, if all our rotas were perfect and our sickness absence was really low, we still couldn’t provide the service that we would need, because we can’t do it without the whole system.”

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Dayne Stone

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