Suspected stroke patients are waiting up to ten hours for an ambulance to arrive, an ITV News investigation can reveal.
It comes as response figures for ‘amber’ calls show thousands more people in Wales are waiting more than an hour for an ambulance compared to a year ago.
Between October 2015 and August 2016, 15,172 calls graded by the ambulance service as ‘amber’ resulted in a wait of longer than an hour.
Between October 2016 and August 2017, that figure had increased by 48.6% to 22,549.
23 hours was the longest wait for an ambulance to an amber call compared with 21 the previous year.
The total number of amber calls to the ambulance service between the two ten month periods increased by 3.6%.
What is an amber call?
In October 2015, the ambulance service changed its response model. The change saw the introduction of a traffic light system. Red for life threatening calls, amber for serious bit not life threatening and green for less serious incidents. Under the new model, only red calls have a target time.
But the majority of calls to the ambulance service are graded as amber, and have no target time. This category includes medical conditions such as stroke, assault, lacerations, poisoning and childbirth.
Under the latest figures obtained by ITV News, suspected stroke patients are waiting up to 10 hours for an ambulance to arrive.
Public information campaigns highlight the need to act ‘FAST’ when people are suspected of suffering a stroke. Four hours is regarded as the essential window in which intervention is required in order to ensure the best outcome for a patient.
On seeing the findings of the ITV News investigation, the Stroke Association in Wales said the figures were of great concern.
These figures are a huge cause for concern. When a stroke strikes, every minute counts. The sooner a stroke patient can get to a stroke unit, and receive the right treatment, the more likely they are to make a better recovery. Any delays can increase the chances that the stroke survivor will have a long-term disability after leaving hospital and also severely jeopardise their eligibility for the latest treatments.
– Rhodri Davies, Stroke Association
The figures have also prompted a political outcry with the Welsh Conservatives questioning how well monitored the model is and whether there needs to be ‘course correction’.
I don’t understand why the Welsh Ambulance Service aren’t going, ‘what is happening?’ They put in this new system but it seem to be like ‘great, new system, let’s leave it. That’s it, it’s going to work.’ Where’s the course correction? Where’s the checking and the balancing? Where’s the monitoring of the outcomes?
– Angela Burns AM, Welsh Conservatives health spokesperson
Something is going wrong in terms of the ability to deal with calls which can still potentially be very serious.
It is very worrying when you see such an increase in waiting times of over an hour for amber calls – potentially serious – in the such a short period of time.
– Rhun Ap Iorwerth AM, Plaid Cymru’s shadow health secretary
Responses to patients on Amber calls are currently measured by the quality of clinical care provided although the Health Secretary has asked the Ambulance Commissioner to review the monitoring of amber calls to consider publishing additional metrics. Data on amber calls are published monthly and are subject to regular and robust reviews.
It’s disappointing some people have waited longer than they would expect. The NHS is working hard to address this. Those in imminent danger of loss of life or limb receive a response in an average of around 5 minutes and no ‘Red call’ has received a response over an hour since 2015. Patients who do not have an immediate need for a response may wait longer, but should receive the right response first time.
– WELSH GOVERNMENT SPOKESPERSON
We are concerned that any patients in our amber category wait longer than an hour for an ambulance and are sorry for those who do.
However, we are confident that our clinical response model is robust in ensuring we provide treatment for the sickest patients first.
During the period quoted our average response time to our most urgent red calls was just over five minutes. That means we’re getting to patients with immediately life threatening conditions quicker than before.
Our Amber category is divided into two sections – Amber 1 and Amber 2. Patients with higher acuity conditions, such as a suspected stroke or heart attack, receive a fast blue light response.
The majority (75 per cent) of patients who waited more than an hour in this period were in the lower priority Amber 2 category, which includes conditions like a fracture or minor injury.
The Emergency Ambulance Service Committee’s Ambulance Quality Indicators show that more than 96 per cent of the 3,600 suspected stroke patients we treated during this time received the appropriate care package.
– RICHARD LEE, THE WELSH AMBULANCE SERVICE’S DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS