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December ambulance response rates lowest in 2012

Statistics released today have shown that the ambulance service has missed the 65% all-Wales target for the seventh successive month. The Welsh Labour government’s target is for 65% of category A calls to receive an ambulance response time within eight minutes. This target was missed, with only 56.1% of calls in December receiving an ambulance within that time.

I am now calling on the Health Minister to raise the all-Wales target to 75% to match Scotland and England and so that the current review into the ambulance service can be based on realistic funding to attain that target.

The figures released today have shown that ambulance response rates in December were the lowest of any month in 2012. We have the slowest ambulance response times in the whole of the UK and they have been getting worse. The Welsh Labour government cannot hide behind adverse weather conditions or unusually high sickness rates as they have done in previous winter seasons.

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. While paramedics and technical staff are striving for excellence, they are facing immense pressure and having to work with increasingly stretched resources.

People throughout Wales are not getting the service they deserve at critical times in their lives. One major reason for these dismal figures is the persistent failure of the Welsh Labour Ministers to establish what resources are needed to match rising demand for ambulance services.

Instead of careful analysis, total income for the Ambulance Service has been determined by a process of the Ambulance Trust haggling with the health boards and those boards haggling amongst themselves. The upshot was that the Ambulance Trust did not know its total income for this financial year until November, the 8th month of the year, and then only after Welsh Liberal Democrats exposed the situation.

The Health Minister has responded to poor ambulance response rates by the diversionary tactic of setting up a review. That having happened, I hope that it will conclude with a sustainable system of funding for our ambulance service, on the basis of recognising the rising demands of an aging population and all potential efficiency improvements which can be made within the service and by reducing hospital handover delays.

Until now, Wales has funded its ambulance service to meet a target of 65% of ambulance responses to life-threatening conditions within 8 minutes – whereas England funds to achieve 75%. The Minister herself should now decide to raise that target, so that the review can be based on realistic funding to attain it.

What Wales does not need is another period of re-organisation, such as by breaking up the all-Wales ambulance service and losing many of its specialist personnel. Uncertainty may cause some to go in the next few months unless it is made clear that the review will be focused on financing and efficiency – not on breaking up the organisation.

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