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Ambulance service – a stick to beat Labour with

Response targets set as tablets of stone help nobody

Welsh Ambulance Service staff do a tough job. They can be called out at a moment’s notice, day or night, and have to drive quickly but safely to deal with all kinds of emergency.

Their patients may have suffered strokes or heart attacks, epilepsy, diabetes, broken legs, arms or neck, stab wounds, dog bites, burns or abrasions. They may be conscious or unconscious, calm or crying — paramedics need to be utterly professional while knowing that if anything goes wrong it could be a matter of life and death.

They have to have a bedside manner in the middle of the road, with the limited medical equipment that can be carried by ambulance and without the experts or the facilities that are on hand in hospitals.

They have to be gentle with tiny babies, understanding of the elderly and infirm, and compassionate towards worried relatives.

You would think to measure the success or failure of these complex and sophisticated tasks would have some measure of sophistication itself. But instead the acid test for paramedics’ performance is solely how long it takes an ambulance to get to the scene of the emergency.

So news that the Welsh Ambulance Service has missed its target of reaching 65 per cent of life-threatening incidents in eight minutes has fuelled what has become the outright denunciation of the service.

The media leads the way but is readily helped by the opposition parties demanding that “something should be done about it.”

While they might not blame the workers directly, they have not gone out of their way to say a word on the workers’ behalf — they are too busy using the situation as a stick to beat the Welsh Labour government.

They were not happy either when Minister for Health and Social Affairs Mark Drakeford pointed out that if a patient’s life is saved by an ambulance crew which made the journey to the incident in nine minutes, it is the nine minutes that counts in assessing the crew’s achievement. He suggests there may be a better way of measuring the service provided. I think he’s right.

Welsh Labour MPs last week finally decided to fight back against David Cameron and the Tories, who’ve been making concerted attacks on the Welsh health service — and by inference its hard-working and committed staff — as a cover for their own inadequacies.

In a debate in which the cancer treatment in Wales was being attacked by a series of planted Tory jibes, shadow secretary of state for Wales Owen Smith fought back to point out that Welsh cancer services were doing better than their English counterparts (not the best way of countering criticism, but a start).

One Tory claimed that Welsh cancer sufferers preferred to have treatment in England — but he’d got the wrong end of the stick.

In fact he was referring to cases where English hospitals near the Welsh border, at the request of their Welsh counterparts, have treated Welsh patients waiting for operations — ie the Welsh and English hospital services working together for the common good. A Tory is unlikely to understand that kind of thing.


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