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Paramedic shortage 'putting lives at risk'

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: October 17, 2012

  • Linet Purcell

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STAFFING levels at ambulance stations in South West Wales are understood to be giving paramedics cause for concern.

A man has spoken to the Evening Post saying he is a Welsh Ambulance Service (WAS) worker and that last Friday and Saturday, nearly half the normal number of ambulances and rapid response vehicles in Morriston, Sketty, Gorseinon, Cwmbwrla and Pontardawe were not in operation.

The employee, who asked not to be named, claimed only 45 per cent of category A (life-threatening) calls in this area were answered within eight minutes on Friday. The Wales-wide target is 65 per cent.

He claimed the Pontardawe station was closed during the day last Saturday and again on Monday night, along with Ystradgynlais. This, he said, meant on Monday night the nearest ambulance cover for Swansea Valley residents was Morriston to the south and Brecon to the north.

The Welsh Ambulance Service has confirmed it is aware of the concerns raised and is investigating them.

The WAS worker also claimed that since July 1, the Pontardawe station had been closed for 21 shifts and manned by one member of staff during a further 21 shifts.

Politicians in Pontardawe have expressed concern.

County councillor Linet Purcell said: "There have been claims that Pontardawe ambulance station has been closed recently for up to 75 cent of its shifts and that as a result its eight-minute response target has been down to 45 per cent on one day last week.

"The worried staff who have had the courage to bring this to the public's attention are very willing to work the extra hours that are necessary to provide sufficient cover but tell us that they are being prevented from doing so."

Mrs Purcell, who is also a town councillor, said: "This is a truly terrifying situation and I believe lives are being put at risk. It must not be allowed to continue."

Town mayor Bob Williams added: "First Neath Port Talbot Hospital and now the ambulance service appears to be being compromised. Something must be done."

The man who spoke to the Post claimed paramedics had also been held up discharging patients at Morriston Hospital and the Princess of Wales Hospital, Bridgend, compounding response times.

He said: "Some of the general public are saying, 'Where the hell have you been?' Some just don't say anything."

He claimed there had been a gradual reduction in "core" shifts but that matters had reached a head in recent days.

He claimed that a big factor was an apparent reduction in overtime being offered by the WAS, adding that it would be wrong to suggest staff sickness was significantly hampering the service.

In August this year, 69 workers from five ambulance stations in the Swansea area shared a £1 million EuroMillions lottery win. This had led to a drop in overtime requests, said the employee, but not a drastic one.

"Most people still want the overtime," he said.

A spokesman for the Welsh Ambulance Service said last night: "We are aware of the concerns raised and these are being discussed within the Trust. We are committed to providing a safe service that is within our available resources."

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