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26 October 2018 | Comment | Article by Ruth Powell

Ambulance response times: a problem with big consequences to patients

Wales is the only nation within the UK to consistently exceed its target of reaching 65% of “red” 999 calls, which are calls that are classed by the Welsh Ambulance Service as immediately life threatening.

The Ambulance Service’s Operations Director estimates demand on the service increases by 3-4% each year and they receive about 1,000 calls a month more than the same period in 2016. This is a clear indication that the need for emergency care is rising and staffing levels need to reflect the number of calls received by the Ambulance Service.

An investigation by BBC Wales during July and August this year found that poor staffing levels within the Welsh Ambulance Service has resulted in ambulance vehicles left off the road and emergencies not being responded to. Aneurin Bevan Health Board in particular was cited to regularly have had 6 vehicles left off the road. As a result, those calls classed as lower priority have to wait longer for emergency care than both the patient and the Ambulance Service would like.

Fortunately the need for more staff has been recognised and the Welsh Ambulance Service has recruited around 70-80 more members of staff since July. Around 10 more members of staff than the rotas require have been recruited to provide more flexibility and cover during unexpected absences.

Last month it was also announced that the Welsh Government is investing £8.2m in the Welsh Ambulance Service to spend on 90 new vehicles, illustrating the government’s acknowledgement of the yearly growing demand on the emergency services.

Sadly, despite the above we are often approached by patients who have experienced delays in receiving emergency care from the Welsh Ambulance Service.

There are some treatments such as stroke management which are time critical and even a short delay can worsen the outcome for an individual. Ciaran McCabe from our Brain Injury team has written more about the importance of treatment beginning in the first hour in the case of stroke management, but stroke is only one of many such time sensitive cases. In these kinds of cases, it is vital that treatment is provided as soon as possible to ensure the best chance of making a full recovery.

It is important to note that not all ambulance delays are automatically eligible to claim. We have nothing but respect for the good work that our ambulance drivers do and acknowledge that sometimes there may be delays that are out of their control, but sometimes there are delays due to negligence either on the part of those who schedule the shifts or in the way the service has been funded.

If these causes of negligence are dealt with, we would have far fewer people approaching us with concerns that an outcome may have been different had emergency care been received sooner.

If you or a family member has suffered as a result of ambulance delays, we have a dedicated and approachable team who can assist. Only a conversation with a specialist medical negligence solicitor will be able to help you know whether or not your delay was a result of negligence that you can claim for.

Hugh James’ Medical Negligence department is ranked in the top tier for their expert clinical negligence advice by both major legal guides – Legal 500 and Chambers and Partners.

If you require any further information, or if you would like to consider a legal claim, please contact our medical negligence specialists who will be able to provide a free no obligation consultation.

If you would like to speak to a specialist, get in touch today.

Author bio

Ruth is a Partner and Head of our Clinical Negligence Department. She has exclusively practised in clinical negligence since qualifying in 1995 and has a wealth of experience in complex and high value clinical negligence claims.

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