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  1. ITV Report

'Disgusting' ambulance A&E handover delays to be investigated by Welsh government

  • Video report by ITV News Health Correspondent Emily Morgan

Wales's health minister has admitted he is "concerned" at the time it takes ambulances to hand patients over in A&E departments, as one patient who spoke to ITV News described her wait as "disgusting".

Vaughan Gething said a task force would be set up to improve the ambulance patient handover process, and said “exceptional pressures” on services this winter had contributed to delays.

ITV News visited the Royal Gwent in Newport, where Health Correspondent Emily Morgan saw first-hand how patients had sit in waiting areas rather than be on trolleys due to the hospital being over-capacity.

The story at the Royal Gwent is not unique, as 42,000 patients attended A&E over the Christmas period in Wales - a 10 per cent increase in the last five years.

Janet (right) labelled her wait in the back of an ambulance 'disgusting' while Fred said his experience had left him 'bitter'. Credit: ITV News

Janet was treated inside an ambulance as there was no bed for her inside the hospital.

She said: "It's disgusting to think that you've got to wait like this, but it's not their fault."

With only 14 bays and 80 patients at the hospital, many patients simply had nowhere to even sit.

In one cubicle, Fred and his family had been at the hospital for 14 hours. He was taken to hospital at 10pm but had to wait until midnight in the back of an ambulance due to the lack of room.

"You're bound to be a bit bitter," he said.

Claire Birchall, operations director at the Royal Gwent Hospital, said: "We know that we are holding more ambulances outside our emergency units than we would like and that has deteriorated over the last year.

"So one of the things we're putting in place is some enhanced arrangements whereby we can offload some of those crews in a more timely way."

Emily Morgan visited patients at Royal Gwent Hospital in Newport. Credit: ITV News

Health minister Vaughan Gething said a task force would be set up to improve the ambulance patient handover process, and said “exceptional pressures” on services this winter had contributed to delays.

Mr Gething told Assembly Members in a statement: “I am concerned about the deterioration in ambulance patient handover performance over recent months.

“As an immediate step, I have asked officials to develop proposals for a system of incentives to achieve desired improvements.

“I expect to take a decision within the next couple of weeks to enable the new system to be introduced in time to impact on performance this winter.”

There is a 15-minute quality target for how long ambulances should be waiting outside hospitals to hand over patients. Credit: PA

There is a 15-minute quality target for how long ambulances should be waiting outside hospitals to hand over patients, with the 513 patients delayed in this way in November 2019 representing the highest number since March 2016.

Mr Gething said the Welsh Ambulance Service experienced a 23% increase in the number of “red” calls when compared with last winter, and an 8.4% increase in “amber” calls.

He said emergency departments saw an 8.4% increase in attendances for over-75s compared with last year and an 8.6% increase on five years ago.

Vaughan Gething said a task force would be set up. Credit: PA

Jason Killens, chief executive at the Welsh Ambulance Service, welcomed the announcement, saying that an increase in demand meant patients had faced “unacceptable” waiting times.

He said: “Winter is always a challenging time for us, but this year in particular has seen exceptional pressures across the system, which is frustrating not just for patients but also for our staff.

“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.

“Improvements to our ambulance service cannot be made in isolation; it requires system-wide action, which is why the creation of this task force 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.”