Ambulance alternatives to be encouraged

Ambulance A new ambulance similar to the latest vehicles, due to take to the road next February or March

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Patients are to be encouraged to travel to hospital by taxi or get a lift rather than be taken by ambulance.

The Welsh Ambulance Service's scheme for patients assessed as being lower priority to find alternative transport has been piloted in south east Wales.

Ambulances have again missed their target of reaching 65% of life-threatening incidents in eight minutes - July's figure was 58.3%.

The service is buying 41 new vehicles to upgrade its 736-strong fleet.

The ambulance service announced plans to extend the Alternative Transport Scheme to north Wales after the latest figures were released.

Trust Director of Service Delivery Mike Collins said non-emergency patients "that are clinically safe and suitable to travel to hospital either with friends or family or by taxi will now do so in some parts of Wales".

"The aim is to ensure our emergency crews and vehicles are more readily available to attend immediately life-threatening calls," added Mr Collins.

The scheme is running in the Aneurin Bevan, Cwm Taf and Cardiff and Vale health board areas, and is expected to begin in Betsi Cadwaladr in September.

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Ambulances reaching life-threatening calls in eight minutes

July: 58.3%

June: 53%

May: 54.1%

April: 56.7%

March: 55%

Source: Welsh government

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Earlier this month it emerged that more than 600 people were taken to hospital in police cars in the past three years because ambulances were not available.

The service received 38,072 emergency calls last month, up 7% on June.

A total of 14,922 were defined as immediately life-threatening, or Category A - a 5.3% increase in the most serious category of calls since June.

Mr Collins said: "We received more Category A calls in July than in any other month in the last 12 months.

"And, with the exception of last October, it was also the month in which we responded to the most Category A calls inside our eight-minute target.

"However, we recognise there must be significant further improvement if we are to reach 65% of the most serious calls within eight minutes on a regular basis."

Steve Sloan, of Unite, said there were huge pressures on the service due to poor health and an ageing population

Conservative shadow health minister Darren Millar blamed Labour Welsh government ministers for a performance that "simply isn't good enough".

"Labour has only met its target once in the past two years and during this summer barely half of ambulances have responded to an immediately life-threatening callout within eight minutes."

Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams said: "Whilst of course we welcome any improvement in service for the people of Wales, we still have a long way to go to reach the Welsh government's own target and even further to go to have a service that is comparable with the one run by Lib Dems in government in England."

A spokesman for the Welsh government said the ambulance service needed to "build on this improvement in response times" and they expected to see "ongoing improvement with targets being achieved month on month". ‪

The spokesman added: "The ambulance fleet continues to be upgraded with Welsh government investment, with a further £4m announced today and additional funding for the recruitment of more than 100 frontline staff."

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