DELAYS in handovers across the country remain a major concern for the Welsh Ambulance Service.
Addressing board members at their bi-monthly meeting, chief executive of the service, Jason Killens expressed his concerns about the lack of improvement in handover times since the service experienced its worst month on record last December.
He said: “The current position in terms of handover delays is of concern.
“It’s been a concern for a very long time but it’s perhaps of increased concern to us this month (March) because we are essentially in a position where we were in December, with the number of long waits we’re seeing at emergency departments and the totality of the losses which are occurring.
“This is despite good improvement in Cardiff and the Vale health board, nationally the picture is the same as it was in December.
“Whilst we haven’t got the very extreme waits in the community that we saw in December, that’s largely because activity is lower than it was in December.”
A report presented to the board stated that the hospitals with the highest levels of handover delays during February of this year included Glan Clwyd Hospital which had 1,338 lost hours.
In February 2023, the Trust could have responded to approximately 6,028 more patients if handovers were reduced, which highlights the impact the numbers are still having on service.
Board members expressed frustration that many of the contributing factors to the handover delays were out of the control of the ambulance service trust.
Lee Brooks, executive director of operations, told the board that assurances were being sought from health boards due to the growing concern about ambulance resources being tied up outside hospitals.
He said: “Our health boards are committed to a 25 per cent reduction in lost hours and an eradication of the four-hour or longer handover delay.
“Recognising December was our worst month on record at 1,000 hours (lost) on average per day, in January that reduced to 738, in February that reduced to 665, but the reality is that reduced because of the specific attention to industrial action days when handover delays were greatly reduced.”
Mr Brooks said that the average for March is looking likely to be 908 lost hours, but the figure is yet to be verified.
He added: “This is starting to reflect a pressure on ambulances which is similar to that in December which is our worst on record.
“The degree of harm is likely to be less than December but harm is inevitable in this situation.
“Whilst commonly we see 40 to 50 per cent of our ambulance resources outside emergency departments unable to respond, at peak I have seen up to 60 per cent.
“The reality is we are not seeing tangible change in relation to the handover delays hence the pressure back into the ambulance service and community wait times.”
Mr Brooks said he was raising this with the chief operating officers of the health board trusts.