'We're letting patients down': The paramedics under pressure inside the Welsh Ambulance Service

Credit: Y Byd ar Bedwar

"I don't know how much worse things can get being truthful"

Frontline ambulance staff across Wales say patients are suffering due to the unprecedented demand facing the service. 

Paramedic Michelle Evans, based in Carmarthenshire, told S4C's current affairs programme Y Byd ar Bedwar that she's no longer doing the job they signed up to do and are already seeing patients die due to the delays.  

Michelle Evans has worked for the Welsh Ambulance Service for six years. Credit: Y Byd ar Bedwar

"Sometimes by the time we arrive, it's too late and they've already died because of the delay in the response time," said Michelle, who joined the service in 2017. She has been a qualified paramedic for the last eight months. 

"Some days we come in and we start our shift and we'll be asked to go to the hospitals to relieve a crew that's been stuck outside with the same patient, and we may be there for the whole 12 hours.

"It's the frustration of not being able to do what we signed up for and we just feel like we're letting patients down."

Alice Morris has been a qualified paramedic for a year and a half. Credit: Y Byd ar Bedwar

Alice Morris has been a paramedic for a year and a half but told Y Byd ar Bedwar she's already re-considering her future.

"I came out of university a year and a half ago and I know in September I'll be considering whether to do a different university course with my career that will allow me to get out of waiting outside hospitals."

Y Byd ar Bedwar was given frontline access over a number of days with the Welsh Ambulance Service, including at the control centre in Cwmbran.

"The patients are suffering in the end," said 27-year-old call taker supervisor Elain Roberts.

"We come in and we deal with all these calls every single day and we are the ones who get shouted at by patients because they haven’t arrived yet.

"It's about the condition of it. We can't retain staff because of pay, we cannot go through keeping and training staff constantly."

Ambulance workers rejected the Welsh Government's most recent offer in February of an extra 3% this year, with an additional 1.5% one-off bonus. This is on top of 4.5% already offered to workers be backdated to April 2022.

Strikes by GMB and Unite unions were due to take place on Monday 6 March, but have since been called off after what was described as "positive negotiations" with the Welsh Government. 

Sonia Thompson, assistant director of operations at the Welsh Ambulance Service, said the strikes are having a huge impact on patients. 

Sonia Thompson, the Assistant Director of Operations at the Welsh Ambulance Service, says the strikes are having a huge impact on patients. Credit: Y Byd ar Bedwar

"It's about helping our staff understand what we are trying to do and whilst pace might be slow there are things that are happening to ensure our staff feel valued and that we appreciate them and that goes a long way.

"We have to remember the strike action taken isn't an argument with the organisation, it is a matter between the trade unions and the Welsh Government in relation to pay but the reality is that has a huge impact on the ability of us to provide a service to patients in Wales."

Figures for January show the ambulance service lost more than 23,000 hours because of vehicles being stuck outside hospitals, unable to drop off patients.

However, ambulance response times for the most serious and immediately life-threatening calls in Wales hit a record low in December with just 39.5% of red calls responded to within the target time of eight minutes.The Welsh Government has said it is working hard to improve urgent and emergency care.

"This includes investing £25m a year to increase staffing and treat people closer to home when they need urgent care," a spokesperson said.

 "One hundred new ambulance staff have joined the service as part of plans to improve response times and free up more time for staff to respond to calls. 

"As part of our work with the NHS and local authorities to improve patient flow through hospitals, we have secured more than 650 extra community beds and care packages and are working to deliver even more."

  • Y Byd ar Bedwar is on Monday 6 March at 8pm on S4C, S4C Clic and iPlayer. English subtitles are available