The ambulance service is and always has been an essential component of the NHS, relied upon by those patients calling 999 to provide the emergency medical care and treatment they require. At the extreme, this care and treatment can mean the difference between life and death.
It has been well publicised in recent years that ambulance services in both England and Wales have struggled to meet target response times for reaching patients, particularly during the winter months when the rise in sick patients stretches not only the ambulance service but also accident and emergency departments and hospital wards in general. These seem to be symptoms of the NHS in general being under resourced.
In 2015, the Welsh Assembly introduced changes to the target response times. The most serious, life-threatening incidents (known as ‘red calls’) retained a target response time of 8 minutes and the Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust was expected to reach this in 65% of cases. However, serious, but non-life-threatening incidents (known as ‘amber calls’) and non-serious incidents (known as ‘green calls’) were not given specific time targets.
The most recent figures published by the Welsh Government show that there were nearly 480,000 999 calls made in Wales in 2017/2018, an increase of 4.4% from the previous year.
Of these calls, nearly 23,000 (or 4.8% of all calls) were classified as ‘red calls’ (up by 11.5% from the previous year). The median response time was 4 minutes 58 seconds, and the target response time was met in 74.6% of cases across Wales – which was significantly higher than the 61.4% figure achieved across Wales in mid-2015 before the changes were introduced.
There was though a disparity in achieving the 8 minute response time across the Local Health Boards in Wales. For example, in the Hywel Dda Health Board area the target was met in 68.2% of cases, whilst in Cardiff and Vale Health Board area the target was met in 81.7% of cases.
By comparison, in England, the target response time for the most serious incidents is 7 minutes, but Trusts are expected to reach this in 75% of cases.
As there is no target response time for ‘amber’ or ‘green’ calls, it is impossible to assess how well the Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust is responding to such calls. However, in 2017/2018, it was noted that the average response times for ‘amber calls’ had increased by 5 minutes 30 seconds up to 19 minutes 3 seconds. However, in over 34% of cases an ambulance took over 30 minutes to reach a patient’s side.
Based upon these statistics, it appears that the Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust is meeting the government-set targets for responding to ‘red calls’.
However, it could be argued that the lack of government-set target response times for non-life-threatening incidents means that the Welsh Assembly and the Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust are not being held accountable for what must be considered a significant increase in the response times for ‘amber calls’.
Sadly, we are often approached by patients who have experienced delays in an ambulance attending following a 999 call. Some of these patients have had to wait many hours for an ambulance to attend. This can result in patients with serious medical problems not receiving the urgent medical care and treatment they require, often causing increased levels of pain and distress, but in some circumstances it can result in a worsening of their condition, permanent injuries or death.
If you or a family member has suffered as a result of any of the issues noted above, we have a dedicated and approachable team who can assist.
TheMedical Negligence department at Hugh James is ranked in the top tier for their expert clinical negligence advice by both major legal guides – Legal 500 and Chambers and Partners. For more information, visit our Medical Negligence page or get in touch to find out if you are eligible to claim.
 Welsh Government Statistics – https://gov.wales/docs/statistics/2018/180627-ambulance-services-2017-18-en.pdf
 Welsh Government Statistics – https://gov.wales/docs/statistics/2015/150729-ambulance-services-june-2015-en.pdf