Welsh Government falls short of declaring ambulance emergency but asks military for help

Watch the report by our Health Reporter Ellie Pitt

The Welsh Government has fallen short in declaring an emergency for the Welsh Ambulance Service but has called on the Ministry of Defence to help provide military assistance.

Soldiers are ready to be deployed to assist the service for the third time in the pandemic as response times to 999 calls are the slowest they have been in 18 months.

Chief Executive of the service Jason Killens says rising Covid cases and seasonal flu have resulted in the breaking point

The Welsh Conservatives had hoped the Welsh Government would declare an "ambulance emergency" at a debate in the Senedd this afternoon.

Military personnel are being asked to assist the Welsh Ambulance service for the third time since the start of the pandemic.

However the Health Minister, Eluned Morgan said that it would not be appropriate but has acknowledged the scale of the problem.

"Everybody in the service at the moment is telling me that this pressure is worse than anything we've seen hitherto, so we need to understand the pressure that the system is under and it's not something where you can just flick a switch and expect things to change."

Opposition members listed cases of constituents who had experienced long waits, waits which are "inhuman" according to another Conservative, Altaf Hussein. 

ITV Wales spoke to an ambulance technician in Brecon, with 35 years experience, who doesn't think bringing in soldiers is the solution.

"I respect the army, they do a wonderful job," Paul Amphlett said.

"But bringing the army in isn't going to solve the problem. The patients are going to be coming in to the hospitals because they'll obviously be helping out to pick these patients up, but they're still going to be stuck in the car parks, we're still going to be waiting with them, babysitting them, so it really isn't going to solve the problem overall.

"The problem is further up in the system."

Figures show that more patients attended emergency departments in July than in any month since the start of the pandemic and the performance against both targets was the worst since comparable data was first recorded.

Ambulance waiting times: explained

Prior to the pandemic an average wait time for an ambulance was four minutes and 30 seconds and six minutes for a red call. However median response times to red calls in July 2021 was seven minutes.

There were almost 44,000 calls to the service in July with an average of around 1,414 calls per day, 32 more than in the previous month and 207 more than the same month last year.

Not many patients felt the direct pain of long waiting times as much as 93-year-old Doris Roberts, when she slipped and fell on the bathroom floor - fracturing her hip.

Her brother-in-law, Geraint Williams, told ITV Wales: "To wait for 13 hours... for a 93-year-old who has been diagnosed over the phone and by the first responder with a broken hip, which I understand in the ambulance service and the NHS is a priority call.

"So I can't understand why it wasn't dealt with sooner."

The Health Minister said she has set out the steps the Welsh Government is taking, including a delivery plan that she has asked ambulance chiefs for. She also said that she is not shying away from the problem.

"I can assure members that I'm not hiding, I'm not ducking, I am absolutely taking responsibility, and I understand that it is my responsibility to drive change in the system. 

"At this time of unprecedented pressure - and I think it is worth underlining the fact that we have never seen anything like this before. 

Eluned Morgan has said she is not shying away from the problem.

Opening this afternoon's debate, the Conservative MS Russell George said that the main aim of it was to get the Welsh Government to acknowledge the emergency exists.

"Now I think the government, first of all needs to accept that the ambulance service is in crisis, you can't resolve a problem unless you accept there is a problem.

"Now I hope this chamber will know I'm not somebody who throws around statements and words, easily I choose my words carefully. So, I stand by that: the ambulance service is in a crisis."