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We deserve a first class 999 response service

A few weeks ago, I challenged the First Minister to explain to the Assembly why the Welsh Ambulance Service Trust did not have a final budget set some seven months into the financial year.

This has meant that for half the year, the Ambulance Trust has been forced to operate on just assumptions and historical figures.

By breaking this story, we have forced the Welsh Labour Government to act and put an end to this uncertainty by ensuring that a budget has now been agreed.

It beggars belief that an organisation that is tasked with providing such a vital service has had to operate for so long without knowing how much money it has available to spend.

Anybody running a business would know that it would simply be impossible to work like this – it is completely shambolic that this situation was ever allowed to arise.

The Welsh Labour Government had effectively forced the Ambulance Trust into an impossible position.

There was no way for the Trust to plan for services with any sort of confidence without knowing how much money it had to spend.

This is not just an issue of financial propriety; the impact of this financial uncertainty on the Ambulance Service has contributed to the pressures it faces on a daily basis.

The effects of the Welsh Government’s inaction are all too evident. After all, Wales has the worst ambulance response times in the whole of the UK.

For the last four months the All Wales Target of 65% for immediately life threatening calls being responded to within 8 minutes has been missed.

If Wales was to attempt to reach the more ambitious English target of 75%, no area in Wales would meet it. While ambulance staff are striving for excellence, they are facing immense pressures and having to work with increasingly stretched resources.

They need to be able to count on a Government to help them do their job properly. At the moment, that is clearly not happening.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats are committed to improving services for patients and staff alike. And recently we used our debate time at the Assembly to talk specifically about the Welsh Ambulance Service budget.

I questioned the Minister for Health and Social Services, Lesley Griffiths, over issues such as response times and lost ambulance hours. As a result, she has decided to undertake a review of the Welsh Ambulance Service.

This will be the ninth review in only six years and so I hope that this review into ambulance services will lead to real change and will not be yet another paper exercise.

An ambulance service that is able to respond quickly, with well-skilled, motivated staff is often the crucial first stage in a response to medical emergencies. That initial response by the ambulance service and its paramedics can mean the difference between life and death for a patient.

After all, you can have the best trauma teams in the world, with all the latest equipment, waiting in your accident and emergency departments, but outcomes are intrinsically linked with a timely arrival at hospital.

I’m told often that Wales is a sparsely populated rural country, and that’s why it takes longer for our ambulances to respond. Actually, the figures tell a different story. Rural Pembrokeshire has some of the best response times in Wales and areas such as more urbanised Blaenau Gwent have some of the worst. If Pembrokeshire can do it, so can the rest of us.

I believe that Welsh patients deserve a first-class emergency service response when they dial 999 and the paramedics and technicians who work on the ambulances deserve to have all the tools to allow them to do the job that they were trained for.

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