999 Call Response Times Improve

Ambulances have been freed up to answer 999 calls after GPs were drafted into control rooms. The Welsh Ambulance Service yesterday revealed it had exceeded its response times target in Carmarthen, just two weeks after the GP triage system was introduced in three control rooms.

But the success comes amid warnings that ambulance cover has been cut in the Swansea area. Rhodri Glyn Thomas, Plaid AM for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, said there are now fewer ambulances available for people living in Gwendraeth valley, Amman valley, Llandeilo and Llandovery than there were 20 years ago.

An anonymous email from a paramedic to Mr Thomas said ambulance staff in the area had been put on one rota, which effectively cut the time ambulances are available in the area by 17 hours. The source said this had been done to increase the number of ambulances available in Swansea.

Mr Thomas said, “It is clear that decisions which are withdrawing vital response services from Carmarthenshire are putting lives at risk.”

The Welsh Ambulance Service said the introduction of the GP triage system means Carmarthen is covered by an extra ambulance, manned by two paramedics, every day. This has been made possible by ensuring only patients who need hospital treatment are taken to A&E.

Response times in the Carmarthen area have gone up – more than 60% of category A calls were responded to within eight minutes over the first weekend in March.

The GP triage scheme was launched at the start of the month as it was predicted that ambulances would have to queue outside A&E departments at peak times. GPs are working in three control centres – Carmarthen, Church Village in Pontypridd and Mamhilad, near Pontypool. They assess whether a caller needs an ambulance, or help paramedics decide if someone needs to go to hospital.

Dr Nigel Waskett, who has been working at Mamhilad, said, “It takes an ambulance on average one hour to deal with a call, including responding, treating, taking to hospital and clearing. So if a doctor stands down one ambulance an hour over a 12-hour shift that is the equivalent of having an extra ambulance and two-person crew available, which could help save lives.”