Welsh ambulance service misses key response target again

Ambulances queue at a hospital
Image caption Ambulance fleets will be upgraded as the service faces major changes

The Welsh Ambulance Service has missed its response time target for the most urgent cases for the 11th month in a row despite an improved performance.

Figures for April show the service responded to 57% of the most urgent (category A) calls within 8 minutes, up from 53% in March.

But the response rate was still below the national target of 65%.

The Welsh government admitted that more needed to be done to ensure performance improved in the long term.

The ambulance service faces major changes in the way it is run in a bid to boost performance.

The Welsh government said improving ambulance response times was still one of the top priorities of the NHS.

However, ministers have recognised that growing demands on the service are adding to the pressure.

'Depressing reading'

Statistics released on Wednesday revealed a 6.3% increase in the number of 999 calls in April 2013 compared to April 2012.

And while the target of meeting 65% of the most urgent calls within eight minutes was missed, 75% were responded to within 12 minutes, and more than 90% within 20 minutes.

Conservative health spokesman Darren Millar AM said: "These latest ambulance response times make for yet more depressing reading about how the NHS is performing following the £800m cuts imposed by Carwyn Jones' Labour Government.

"The Welsh Labour Government's target of 65% of ambulances responding to a life-threatening call within eight minutes is below the target set elsewhere in the UK and even that is being routinely missed.

"Wales has now had 14 years of Labour health ministers who have been responsible for the decline in ambulance service performance and, whilst I appreciate the health minister is beginning to implement some of the recommendations of the latest review into the ambulance service, axing A&E services and record-breaking cuts in the Welsh NHS are only going to make matters worse."

Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams AM paid tribute to the hard work of ambulance staff and blamed Labour ministers for "this continued failure".

'Dire figures'

"Sadly, these figures show Wales has by far the worst urgent response times in mainland UK," she said.

"I recognise there were a huge amount of calls made in April and there has certainly been improvement compared to the dire figures from the previous month, but we are still a long way off from receiving even an adequate service."

Plaid Cymru health spokesperson Elin Jones AM said: "The failure of the Welsh Ambulance Trust to meet the targets once again is of particular concern following the recently published hospital reconfiguration proposals.

"Areas such as Rhondda Cynon Taff which will lose services under the preferred option have an ambulance response time of less than 50%, well below the 65% target."

The Welsh government pointed to the improved rate of response since March but admitted more needed to be done.

"In April 2013, the Welsh Ambulance Service achieved a four percentage point increase in the number of emergency responses arriving at the scene within the eight minute target," said a spokesperson.

"In the same month, 75% of patients who required an emergency response received one within 12 minutes, and over 90% received a response within 20 minutes.

"While this is encouraging, more needs to be done to ensure performance improves in the long term.

"The Minister for Health and Social Services has accepted a number of recommendations made following the recent review of Welsh Ambulance Services, with focus on delivering a clinical service to ensure patients receive the right response, at the right time and in the right place."

The review of the ambulance service published in April recommended major changes in the way it is run, including an increased focus on emergency responses leaving routine hospital transfers to local health boards.

Health Minister Mark Drakeford is also considering setting a new range of performance targets alongside response times.

Earlier in May he announced that £9.5m was to be spent upgrading the Welsh ambulance fleet.

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