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Ambulance Service under pressure

November 8, 2012 10:31 AM
By Peter Black in Glamorgan Gazette

Welsh Liberal Democrats recently discovered that the ambulance service has been without a budget since April. Our concern was that uncertainty over money could have a knock-on effect on patients. It was certainly a concern shared by Ambulance Trust members at a recent board meeting where questions were raised about the health minister's leadership.

We have strong reasons to believe that the fact that the Wales Ambulance Trust was operating on a best guess basis in terms of the resources available to it has contributed to a significant reduction in overtime availability and thus operational efficiency.

That has wider implications as was evident from one communication I received last week. This suggested that the closure of Porthcawl Ambulance station nine times at the beginning of October, and a similar situation at Maesteg and Bryncethin Ambulance Stations was due to the withdrawal of the overtime that has been covering unstaffed scheduled shifts.

The letter went on to allege that on two Saturday nights in October there was only one ambulance to cover the whole Bridgend area, an entirely unsatisfactory situation considering how busy Saturday nights can be. I have seen similar claims in the Swansea area.

This puts the failure of the Welsh Ambulance Service to meet its targets into perspective. In September there were more than 33,700 emergency calls, nearly 2% lower than August, of which more than 13,400 were Category A immediately life-threatening calls. Ambulances responded to 64.2% of Category A calls within eight minutes. That is the fourth successive month the 65% target has been missed.

The budget situation was finally resolved at the end of October, seven months after the start of the financial year and by coincidence, just days before the Welsh Liberal Democrats were to stage a debate in the Assembly on the issue.

Managers will now have an operational budget to work with and hopefully will be able to plan with more certainty to ensure patient safety.

However there are still issues with the way the health service is operating in Wales, and particularly the way in which the Health Minister is overseeing the programme of re-organisation. Nobody seems to have thought through the impact on the ambulance services for example, if Accident and Emergency moves from Princess of Wales hospital.

It beggars belief that the First Minister and the Health Minister were unaware of the situation until it was brought to their attention on 23 October in the Assembly Chamber by Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader, Kirsty Williams. We now need to know how this happened in the first place and make sure it never happens again.