WALES' health minister Vaughan Gething will set up a new ambulance availability taskforce following "relentless pressures" on health and social care services this winter.

Between December 18 and January 5, the Welsh Ambulance Service (WAS) experienced a 23 per cent increase in the number of immediately life-threatening, or 'red'-level, call-outs when compared to the same period from the previous winter.

On eight of those days, WAS received more than 100 red calls per day.

The period "made for an extremely challenging working environment for frontline staff," Mr Gething said.

The new taskforce's aims will be to improve patient handover at hospitals, find community-based ways to avoid unnecessary ambulance trips to A&E departments, and bring in recommendations from a previous independent review.

Mr Gething also said he would consider bringing in a system of incentives to improve patient handover between ambulance crews and other health services.

WAS chief executive Jason Killens welcomed the announcements, which he said followed a winter of "exceptional pressures across the system" that frustrated staff and patients alike.

“An increase in demand and in the number of hours spent handing over patients at hospitals has meant that some patients have waited an unacceptable amount of time for our help," Mr Killens said. “Improvements to our ambulance service cannot be made in isolation – it requires system-wide action, which is why the creation of this taskforce can only be a good thing for our patients and for our people.

“We look forward to hearing more detail in the coming days and weeks, in particular around proposals for a system of incentives for our unscheduled care partners."


The health minister said the increased pressures on health services this winter were down to numerous factors, including the presence of norovirus and flu-like symptoms, and the higher number of older people attending emergency departments.

Across Wales, the number of over-75s visiting A&E departments this winter was 8.4 per cent higher than the previous year's winter. Emergency department visits as a whole increased in this time, too.

"This level of increased pressure brings significant challenges and, as a result, some patients have unfortunately waited longer for access to care," Mr Gething said. "This pressure also has consequences for staff well-being, and it is testament to the commitment and skill of frontline teams that they continue to deliver timely care to the majority of people."

Mr Gething was joined by both Mr Killens and Aneurin Bevan University Health Board (ABUHB) in thanking health and social care staff for their hard work during the busy winter period.

Last week, ABUHB announced the formation of a new ambulance handover unit, to try and cut patient wait times outside the A&E department of the Royal Gwent Hospital in Newport.