Plaid Cymru councillor for Penyrheol, Steve Skivens writes about his concerns over waiting times at hospital A&E Units and ambulance delays and calls for action by the Welsh Government. Steve is a former Assistant Chief Fire Officer at South Wales Fire & Rescue Service.
As ambulance workers in Wales and England prepare to strike over pay, people are already facing long waiting times for ambulances and delays at Accident& Emergency Centres for treatment.
Recent figures on Wales ambulance response times highlight a deteriorating performance. For example, Aneurin Bevan Health Board only met red calls within eight minutes on 56.4% of all calls in October, 2022 and 67.6% of the lesser amber calls took over an hour to respond.
This comes at a time when thousands of ambulances are stuck in queues, handover times of hours not 15 minutes as expected, then hours of waiting in A&E units.
As a councillor and parent, I’m currently dealing with an incident in which a mother was told by her GP to drive her child, who had been suffering from breathing difficulties, directly to the Grange Hospital as the wait for an ambulance would be too long. The GP had stabilised the child, who then had a seven-hour wait for a bed at the Grange.
What is also becoming apparent is the excess deaths being reported and behind them the much larger numbers of people whose conditions or lives have changed forever due to lack of timely care.
Before we turn and apportion blame or seek a quick fix, we need to understand what this all means to our communities.
In my previous role in the Fire and Rescue Service, if the fire appliances were held up and couldn’t attend incidents, our communities would be littered with burnt-out shells of properties, jobs lost and people bereaved. Totally unacceptable and observable every day to all.
Yet non-attendance or delayed treatment of people in need is burning holes in our communities. Family members or friends and neighbours no longer with us, people's conditions deteriorating and longer-term impacts. But often the statistics do not convey the tragedies experienced.
- The elderly lay on the floor with a broken hip at home, just waiting for an ambulance crew.
- The sports field teenager covered in coats for hours and hours.
- The gent suffering a heart attack left anxious and scared in the high street just hoping someone will come.
Often these stories are silent, personal, sensitive and people do not realise the scale of what’s happening in their community. People trying to come to terms with the issue, rationalising and grieving yet hurting deeply.
But it must be seen as a system failure, not just ambulance crews stuck, not just A&E staff unable to admit more patients but hospital discharge services, care in the community, residential and nursing care placements and commissioning.
Preventative programmes and screening initiatives, healthy lifestyles and mental health support through social services all are part of this mix.
Any solution must be multi-disciplinary with a focus on a system-wide review and unblock the problems. Streamline the administration and bureaucracy and then see if individuals or services are failing and fix them.
I recognise the hard work of social care, health care and emergency staff. The pressure these people are under day in and day out is immense and will impact on their wellbeing.
But I call on the Welsh Government to bring all parties to the table and support those people needing care or having the worst day in their lives. It is today they need support, not next week or next year. Or we will have more holes in our community.