Ambulances to answer to local health boards in Wales

Thomas Griffiths had a nine-hour wait for an ambulance, says his daughter

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The ambulance service in Wales will now be directly responsible to a body made up of the seven health boards, the health minister has said.

The move has been made to improve performance of the ambulance service after it missed its eight-minute response targets for the last year.

It means priorities for the ambulance service will be based on "clearer and more transparent criteria" in future said Mark Drakeford.

The service could also be renamed.

The Welsh Ambulance Service was created in 1999 and has faced regular problems during its lifetime in addition to the continuing current concerns over failing to meet performance targets.

Accountability concerns

Reviews undertaken in 2006, 2007 and 2008 had expressed serious concerns about the ambulance service's performance and leadership.

And emergency response figures of each of the last 12 months showed that the 65% target had not been hit.

The service has recently been scrutinised by health academic Prof Siobhan McLelland which found there were significant issues with the service including concerns about accountability.

Start Quote

Today's statement puts in place a future structure which is simple, clear and aligned primarily to better delivery for patients”

End Quote Mark Drakeford Health Minister

Mr Drakeford told AMs: "It [the McLelland review] found that the fundamental problem has been that current accountability and governance arrangements for ambulance services in Wales are multiple, complex and lacking in clarity and sympathy.

"Today's statement puts in place a future structure which is simple, clear and aligned primarily to better delivery for patients.

"The National Delivery Organisation will oversee a new, direct financial flow, in which money will move, in a single stage, from the local health boards (LHBs) as purchasers, to the delivery organisation."

He said he had considered completely dissolving the Welsh Ambulance Service Trust, but had decided that this would cause too much disruption.

Mr Drakeford also announced a consultation exercise to rename the ambulance service.

His initial suggestion was that it should be called the Welsh Emergency Medical Service.

The Conservatives' Shadow Health Minister Darren Millar asked Mr Drakeford to reconsider an alternative suggestion in the review if the new structure proved unsuccessful.

Better results

Mr Millar said a separate ambulance service health board, directly funded by the Welsh government would introduce "some direct accountability to you, as health minister, for the delivery of ambulance services on the ground".

Plaid Cymru AM Lindsay Whittle cautiously welcomed the plans, but warned his party wanted to see better results "sooner rather than later".

He told Mr Drakeford he was pleased that the "highly paid chief executives" on health boards would be working together to improve ambulance services, and said they should be told they had a "duty to get it right".

Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams said later: "Sadly after eight Welsh government reviews in six years the service seemed to be heading in the wrong direction.

"Paramedics are doing the best they can and are working incredibly hard but they are stuck in a system that is failing.

"The time for reviews is over, this ninth review will, hopefully, be the last and people in Wales will finally get the ambulance service they deserve."

Unison union said it broadly welcomed the plans and was pleased most of its recommendations to the review had been accepted.

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