Welsh Ambulance Crisis Criticism Mounts

In the wake of searing criticism of the Welsh Ambulance Service, its former chairman has added to the debate saying it was under funded from the start. Roy Norris’ comments follow those of ex-chief executive Roger Thayne, who said the service was in “crisis” and failings are costing 500 lives a year.

Mr Norris said extra money was the only way improvements could be made.

Welsh Health Minister Brian Gibbons said he was willing to “seriously engage” with the ambulance service. Mr Thayne resigned as interim chief executive two weeks ago saying he asked for a necessary £35m to rescue the service but was instead asked to make cuts.

He had written a report cataloguing outdated equipment, a history of poor management and delays in getting ambulances to patients. He went public on BBC Wales’s Week In Week Out programme explaining that he resigned because he did not want to be accountable or feel “ashamed” for a service that was failing so badly.

Many of Mr Thayne’s criticisms have been supported by Mr Norris – chair of the Welsh Ambulance Service until March when Mr Thayne joined the organisation.

He said he felt “vindicated” by many of Thayne’s criticisms.

“We thought at that time that by working internally, by making the case time and time again that eventually people would see the light and put the resources in,” Mr Norris said.

“I thought that when Roger came in March a fresh chair would be able to persuade people that we weren’t just crying wolf.

“I think they (the assembly government) have to accept now that money needs to go in and all that can be done – tweaking, changing operating systems – is being done and at the end of the day you have to have additional resources to enable the changes to happen.”

Dr Gibbons acknowledged that changes needed to be made within budget constraints. He said: “I’m saying that we are not in the position to be offering people blank cheques and we need to be having a serious discussion with the ambulance service in relation to their requirements.

“We are willing to seriously engage with the ambulance service and listen to what they think their requirements are, but as in everything else – particularly when it is big investment – we need to make sure that the money is being used efficiently.”

But Liberal Democrat health spokeswoman Jenny Randerson said the assembly government had its financial priorities wrong.

She added: “(The ambulance service) is clearly in crisis and that’s not news for those who have looked at it for a long period of time.

“It’s a very helpful series of statements by Roger Thayne to have highlighted what the staff have been saying for a long time.

“Their frustration is immense. It’s a scandalous situation.”

Plaid Cymru’s Helen Mary Jones said Dr Gibbons’ response was “nothing short of a disgrace”. “Yet again we see the government wallowing in self-praise while part of our health service is in the midst of a crisis.

His blasé attitude with waiting times and the dental service has been reproduced with regards to our ambulance service and it is not good enough.”