NEARLY half of the most serious ambulance callouts in Gwent missed the national eight-minute response target in September – prompted by ongoing, widespread pressures on the NHS.

In three of the most serious cases, it took between 30 and 60 minutes for an ambulance to arrive.

The Welsh Government says it is "working hard" to respond to "significant challenges" related to the pandemic, and the Welsh Ambulance Service says delays to response times are a "symptom" of pressures and staff shortages across the NHS.

In Wales, ambulance callouts are categorised red, amber or green depending on how serious the incident is considered to be.

New figures obtained via Freedom of Information requests show that ambulance crews managed to respond to 55 per cent of 'red' callouts – signifying the most urgent, immediately life-threatening cases – in the Gwent area in September.

The Welsh Government's national target for the Welsh Ambulance Service is for 65 per cent of 'red' callouts to be responded to within eight minutes.


What's the situation across Wales?

The figures, obtained by the Welsh Conservatives, show that just over half (52 per cent) of all 'red' callouts were responded to nationwide within eight minutes in September.

The vast majority of calls were responded to within 15 minutes (82 per cent) – but there were 74 incidents in which took more than half an hour for an ambulance to arrive, including three in Gwent.

In two cases – one in West Wales and one in Powys – it took longer than an hour for an ambulance to arrive.

The Welsh Ambulance Service said these callouts over 30 minutes represented a "small proportion" of the total number of incidents, but "we completely acknowledge that this performance remains unacceptable and know how distressing it can be when your loved one is ill or injured and you’re waiting for help".

Tories: Ambulance crisis is political

The Welsh Conservatives say these figures show that the ambulance service is in its own crisis, and should not just be considered as part of the wider pandemic-related pressures on the NHS.

Russell George, the party's shadow health minister in the Senedd, said the crisis is due to political decisions rather than the performance of paramedics. He has called for pressure to be taken off other parts of the NHS to allow ambulance crews more breathing space.

“The crisis affecting Welsh hospitals extends far beyond the buildings themselves as a shortage of beds and staff means overcrowded A&E departments and queues of ambulances outside, resulting in unacceptably long waits for ambulances, something people do not ask for lightly," he said.

“Paramedics work incredibly hard, which explains why the ambulance service has higher staff sickness rates than any health board, and deserve recognition of their dedication in such challenging circumstances. But we must remember that NHS exists to provide dignified treatment for patients."

Regional Senedd member Natasha Asghar, who represents the Gwent area, said the healthcare problems in the Aneurin Bevan health board area were "particularly acute" and the Welsh Government needed to address problems at The Grange hospital.

“With emergency departments full and staff morale at rock-bottom, it’s not surprising that hard-working paramedics cannot reach patients quickly and are stuck queuing outside hospitals," she said. “The Cardiff Bay government opened The Grange early, against expert advice, and people are now paying the price. It’s now time for ministers to listen and act.”

Responding to the Conservatives' claims, a Welsh Government spokeswoman said there was a delivery plan in place to help manage 999 demand in the community. That plan will also "increase capacity, improve responsiveness and improve ambulance patient handover", she added.

Wales has also launched a new national programme to improve patient flow through hospitals, and announced £25million in recurrent funding to support this.

Welsh Ambulance statement in full

Responding to the figures and the Conservatives' comments, Jason Killens, the chief executive of the Welsh Ambulance Service, said: “Issues being felt in other parts of NHS Wales, like delayed discharges which can hinder flow through hospitals and lengthen ambulance waits at the ‘front door’ of A&E, have a direct consequence for us because fewer ambulance are available to respond to patients waiting in the community.

“Coupled with staff absence exacerbated by Covid-19, as well as a significantly higher volume of calls than predicted, our ability to get to patients quickly has been significantly hampered in recent months.

“While the 74 life-threatening ‘red’ calls which took us more than half an hour to reach in September represent a small proportion (1.91 per cent) of the total number, we completely acknowledge that this performance remains unacceptable and know how distressing it can be when your loved one is ill or injured and you’re waiting for help.

“We also recognise that more can be done to improve the experience of patients in the serious but not immediately life-threatening ‘amber’ category.

“While amber calls are not subject to a response time target, patients are waiting longer than we’d like and this has a particularly negative impact on their experience and sometimes, sadly, on their outcome.

“This is why we continue to work with our health board and Welsh Government partners to try to resolve pressures across the entire urgent and emergency care system, because this isn’t just an ambulance service issue.

“For the time being, having the military back on board will bolster our capacity and put us in the best possible position to provide the safest possible service to the people of Wales while we urgently explore more sustainable options, accepting the circumstances are unlikely to improve immediately.

“The public can help by only calling 999 in a serious or life-threatening emergency – for everything else, the NHS 111 Wales website and symptom checkers are the best source of information and advice as first ports of call.”