August 18, 2008

Ambulance 999 Response Times Hit By Delays in A&E

By Madeleine Brindley Health Editor

HUNDREDS of ambulances are unable to answer life-or-death emergency calls every month because they are delayed at South Wales hospitals.

Figures obtained by Media Wales, which publishes the Echo, today reveal the true scale of the problem, which is hampering the under- fire Welsh Ambulance Service's ability to meet its response time targets.

And despite Health Minister Edwina Hart introducing a tough 15- minute turnaround target for ambulances at A&E departments, the figures show there are hundreds of occasions every month when ambulances are forced to wait more than 20 minutes to offload sick and injured patients.

The ambulance service lost 1,871 unit hours while transporting patients to hospitals run by Cardiff and Vale NHS Trust and a further 1,165 unit hours at Cwm Taf NHS Trust, which runs the Royal Glamorgan and Prince Charles hospitals in Llantrisant and Merthyr Tydfil, between April and July this year.

Although this is an improvement on last year's figures, it reveals the true extent of the problem facing the ambulance service, which is struggling to meet its response time targets, especially in south-east Wales.

Aunit hour is described as a fully equipped, fully staffed, roadworthy vehicle available torespond to999 callsforafull hour.

Jenny Randerson, the Welsh Liberal Democrats' health spokeswoman and AM for Cardiff Central, said: "Many of the wider problems within the service, particularly in southeast Wales, relatetoambulance turnaround and these will continue unless the lost time is reduced more dramatically.

"If the 15-minute target has only managed to bring things down by this small amount it seems to suggest that there are fundamental capacity problems at some A&E departments.

"An ambulance's place is on the road, not stacked in some holding pattern like an aeroplane."

Shadow Health Minister Jonathan Morgan, AM for Cardiff North, said: "Part of the problem is the way in which hospitals engage with the ambulance service. It is all very well giving them a target but the delivery can only happen if hospitals fulfil their side of the bargain and process people faster.

"I have real sympathy with the ambulance service which has been told to meet a target, has demonstrated ways it can do that or even exceed it, but so much depends on A&E departments."

The Welsh Ambulance Service said it could not comment but an Assembly Government spokesman said: "While there have been improvements with ambulance handover times in some hospitals, the health minister remains disappointed with the overall performance.

"The minister expects NHS trusts and the Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust to make further and sustained improvements in this area."


Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University NHS Trust: Apr- Jul2007=1,449*Apr-Jul2008=1,453

Cardiff and Vale NHS Trust: Apr-Jul2007=2,207 Apr-Jul2008=1,871

Cwm Taf NHS Trust: Apr-Jul2007=1,263** Apr-Jul2008=1,165

*Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University NHS Trust was formed by the merger of Swansea NHS Trust and BroMorgannwg NHS Trust, which runs the Princess of Wales Hospital, in Bridgend, in April 2008

** North Glamorgan and Pontypridd and Rhondda NHS trusts merged in April 2008toformCwmTaf NHS Trust

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