Welsh ambulance response times slowest on record for most life-threatening calls

The Welsh Government said there is currently "unprecedented demand" on the NHS.

Ambulance response times for the most serious and immediately life-threatening calls in Wales have hit a record low, Welsh Government figures have revealed.

In October, just 48% of ambulances arrived at red calls - which means the patient is in imminent danger of death - within the target time of eight minutes.

That is 2% lower than the previous month and the same time last year.

There is a target for 65% of these calls to be responded to within the target time, but this not been met for more than two years.

It comes after an ITV Wales investigation found ambulances are waiting for up to a day to offload their patients to hospitals.

A lack of available beds in hospitals means ambulance crews are often spending their entire 12 hour shifts sitting outside emergency departments.

Less than half of calls where the patient was in imminent danger of death were met within the target time of eight minutes.

The figures have also revealed an increase in the number of patients waiting for more than four hours to be seen in A&E.

In October, 66.6% of patients were seen within that target time, down from 67.9% in September.

The Welsh Ambulance Service said its average response time to red calls in October was 10 minutes.

Lee Brooks, Executive Director of Operations, said: "Emergency ambulances are to deliver life-saving immediate care and to take patients promptly to hospital for treatment, so it's as frustrating for us as it is for patients when we can’t deliver that part of our service.

"In October, we lost almost 29,000 hours to handover delays across Wales; the equivalent of more than a third of our capacity for the entire month.

"Despite record recruitment, including the creation of 400 extra posts in our Emergency Medical Service in the last three years, it is not enough to plug this lost capacity."

He added that the service is treating more patients over the phone and in the community, making adjustments to its roster system, and working to deliver up to 100 extra frontline workers by late January.

In response to the latest figures, the Welsh Government has highlighted the "unprecedented demand" on the NHS.

"In hospitals alone, more than 361,000 consultations were carried out in September," a spokesperson said.

"Primary care, ambulance and emergency department staff remain under intense pressure. As an example, October saw the highest number and proportion of 'red'/immediately life-threatening calls on record.

"Whilst we acknowledge ambulance performance is not where we expect it to be, we are driving improvements, including extending same-day emergency care services to open seven-days a week,  managing calls better to reduce hospital admissions and recruiting more staff. Without all this the pressure on the system would be even greater."

The Welsh Conservatives have called on the government to "stop breaking all the wrong records".

Shadow Health Minister Russell George MS said: "When we see nearly a quarter of the population on an NHS waiting list, the slowest ambulance response times on record, and Britain’s worst A&E waits, I think it is more than fair to say that NHS Wales’ ability to treat patients stands upon the edge of a knife.

"I simply do not understand why Labour ministers are ignoring are calls for surgical hubs and winter war rooms to deal with these dangerously long waiting times when we see them leading to very visible progress in England."

Plaid Cymru's spokesperson on health and care, described the NHS as being "locked into a vicious circle".

Rhun ap Iorwerth MS said: "While Covid has certainly exacerbated the problems, these issues existed long before the pandemic.

"Clearly, we need to see action taken now to increase capacity and to improve patient flow, but the Labour Welsh Government has to ensure that things are sustainable for the long term.

"That has to include a dramatic change in attitudes – and government funding – towards preventative health measures. We need a prevention revolution to help release the pressure on our NHS."