PATIENTS' complaints about deteriorating emergency responses by under-fire ambulance services in South East Wales are set to more than treble this year.

With December performance against the eight-minute target response time the worst ever recorded in Wales, and the South East the poorest performer of the service's three regions, those at the sharp end are increasingly making their displeasure known to ambulance bosses.

From April-December 2008, 102 complaints about emergency services were received by the Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust from people in its South East region, compared with 40 over the previous 12 months.

The four worst performing Torfaen, Monmouthshire, Newport and Blaenau Gwent, a good proportion of these complaints are likely to have come from Gwent.

If the region's complaint rate is maintained to the end of March, the number will be By contrast, complaints in the trust's top performing north region stood at just 22 for April-December 2008.

In Torfaen in December, more than four out of five category A (immediately life threatening) calls missed the eight-minute response time, just 17.9 per cent being reached within it, against a 60 per cent target.

Torfaen AM Lynne Neagle believes the service in the area is now in crisis, requiring urgent action. She also wants people who have experienced difficulties with the service to contact her office.

"I don't think local people can or should be expected to wait for the publication of another report into this issue, before some action is taken," she said.

"The system in South East Wales obviously needs a longer term overhaul, but with so many people at risk, we need an immediate interim response.”

“The ambulance trust and the health minister must now work together to develop an emergency response to these shocking figures.”

“There’s a gap of 60 per cent between the ambulance service in Torfaen and the best performing authority in Wales (Conwy, at 78.4 per cent). That is totally unacceptable.”

Ambulance chiefs cite poor weather, a surge in flu-like illness, and ongoing problems with handover times at A&E units as reasons for December's poor figures, but are cautiously optimistic of significant improvements since.

  • Ms Neagle's office can be contacted on 01495 740022 or at 73 Upper Trosnant Street, Pontypool, NP4 8AU.

Ambulance service in a 'critical condition'

MONMOUTHSHIRE, where emergency ambulance response times have regularly been among the worst in Wales, had the second worst performance in December, with just 30.5 per cent of category A calls reached inside eight minutes.

County councillor Phyl Hobson said he receives an increasing number of complaints about ambulance services and called the latest figures "shocking."

William Graham, Conservative AM for South Wales East, said the ambulance service is in "critical" condition: "The December figures indicate a marked deterioration, but are not a reflection upon crews and paramedics," he said.

"Responsibility lies with an Assembly Government that fails to ensure efficient investment in NHS services and their setting of unrealistic targets."