NHS 'crisis' as Welsh ambulance responses to most serious 999 calls slowest on record

The Welsh Ambulance Service received 5,949 red calls in December - the highest number ever made in a single month. Credit: Welsh Ambulance Service

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

Just 39.5% of red calls were responded to within the target time of eight minutes in December - a drop of 8.5% since November. The target is 65%.

The Welsh Ambulance Service received 5,949 red calls in December - the highest number ever made in a single month.

In the same month around 1,500 ambulance workers went on strike over pay and working conditions, with the public warned that many 999 calls would not get a response.

Striking Welsh ambulance workers have said patient safety is being compromised by long hospital handover delays.

The Welsh Ambulance Service has apologised to patients and their families who had a poor experience.

Chief executive Jason Killens said: "We spent more than 32,000 hours waiting to hand patients over to hospital colleagues last month, and while crews are tied up at hospitals, they're unable to get to other patients in the community.

"This - coupled with sustained high demand, the Strep A outbreak and industrial action - resulted in some very long waits for us to arrive.

"We did, however, see 300 more patients in eight minutes in December 2022 when compared to the same month the previous year."

He also warned that further industrial action will mean crews have very limited ability to respond to any calls other than the most immediately life-threatening.

More than 88,000 people attended emergency departments in Wales in December.

The number of people waiting for longer than four hours in emergency departments was the highest on record, with just 63.1% spending less than the target time in A&E.

The target is 95% - this has not been met since October 2015.

Data has also revealed that the number of waits for NHS treatment has fallen by around 5,000 to 748,271 - a second consecutive decrease since consistent rises since April 2020.

There are now thought to be around 586,000 people waiting to start treatment in Wales.

Despite this, Plaid Cymru has said the latest NHS performance figures confirm the health service is in "crisis".

Plaid Cymru's spokesperson for health and care Rhun ap Iorwerth MS said: "Welsh Government cannot keep doing the same thing and expecting waiting times to drastically improve - this needs new and innovative thinking to change the current trajectory that the NHS is on.

"That is why Plaid Cymru believes that a health crisis should be declared in Wales and why it was so disappointing that Labour voted this down in the Senedd yesterday.

"This would have shown that they're prepared to acknowledge the scale of the challenge, and are prepared to set a new context in which to take on those challenges."

The Welsh Conservatives said the figures highlight that "patient safety is at risk and staff morale is utterly broken".

Shadow Health Minister Russell George MS said: "I know this is a difficult situation across many nations, but we must remember, that on Labour's watch, Wales has been left in a worse position - we've just recorded the worst A&E and ambulance response times on record and we have Britain's longest waiting list.

"Labour need to get a grip on the NHS and stop breaking all the wrong records."

  • The Health Minister told ITV News that the healthcare system in Wales is working for the "vast majority" of people who use it

The Welsh Government has said it is making "system improvements", including the use of same-day emergency care services seven days a week, improving management of 999 patients over the phone and recruiting more staff.

A spokesperson added: "December was an exception month and demand on the ambulance service and emergency departments remained high, with the month seeing the highest number of red/immediately life-threatening calls ever made.

"Although the proportion of red calls responded to within eight minutes was the lowest on record, December saw the highest number of red calls ever receive an emergency response with eight minutes.

"From today an additional 75 ambulance clinicians will be operational to support timely ambulance responses.

"There was an average of 2,847 daily attendances to emergency departments and minor injury units which impacted performance against the four hour and twelve hour targets."