A recommendation in a report to close Wales Air Ambulance bases at Caernarfon and Welshpool has rightly angered people across north and mid Wales this week.

Details of the recommendation in the report by the Chief Ambulance Services Commissioner Stephen Harrhy were revealed by north and mid Wales politicians and air ambulance campaigners on Wednesday, 13 March, sparking outrage across Ceredigion, Gwynedd and Powys.

Dwyfor Meirionnydd MP Liz Saville Roberts said she was infuriated by the recommendation to close the Caernarfon and Welshpool bases.

She fears for the safety of constituents and raised the fact that people in the areas that will be most affected by the closures have raised thousands for the Wales Air Ambulance to keep helicopters flying in the skies above north and mid Wales.

Also reacting to the news on Wednesday was Dwyfor Meirionnydd MS Mabon ap Gwynfor who pointed out the chilling fact that if the recommendation gets the go-ahead and Caernarfon and Welshpool bases do close, so-called rapid response vehicles will take an hour-and-a-half to travel the same distance the air ambulance can in just a few minutes.

Air Ambulance
(Picture supplied))

A joint statement from Mrs Saville Roberts MP and Mr ap Gwynfor MS said the recommendation was “a disgraceful and short-sighted decision, which will have far reaching implications for the safety of people across north west and mid Wales, not to mention the reputational damage it will inevitably cause the charity”.

They added: “People have donated thousands of pounds to the Wales Air Ambulance on the understanding that it provides a timely emergency medical response to communities across north west and mid Wales.

“This decision is a backwards step in the delivery of emergency medical care across our rural communities - driven by questionable data and a flawed consultation process.

“The Welsh Labour Government had the ability and ample opportunity to influence and to intervene in this process but chose to say nothing.

“There has been no recognition of the real concerns expressed by our constituents and no representation has been made by government to ensure the Wales Air Ambulance continues to serve all parts of the country equally.

“Plaid Cymru's call to keep both bases in Caernarfon and Welshpool open and introduce an RRV (Rapid Response Vehicle) in the north east was accepted in Phase 2 of the consultation as one of the best options for the long-term future of the service.

“The Air Ambulance is the difference between life and death in many rural areas such as Meirionnydd, Pen Llyn, the north of Ceredigion, Ynys Mon, and Maldwyn - in areas already compromised by lengthy ambulance wait times.

“The services offered by Caernarfon and Welshpool bases are vital and it is immensely regrettable that rural Wales looks set to suffer the consequences of a centralised base in north east Wales. “Every option must now be explored by campaigners to challenge this decision, including the possibility of a judicial review.”

Montgomeryshire politicians also called for the recommendation to be rejected. Russell George MS and Craig Williams MP say Welshpool offers critical rapid response coverage for rural mid Wales, helping people in urgent need get potentially life-saving emergency medical care.

Air Ambulance
(Welsh Conservatives)

The formal engagement process found a swathe of concerns from people about the proposed closure of Welshpool and Caernarfon, including issues surrounding response times and compromised care.

In the past few days, regional health boards have been giving their views on the recommendation. Once all the health boards have done this, the findings will be formally reviewed and agreed by the Emergency Ambulance Services Committee, covering all of Wales.

Mr George MS said: “Given we don’t have a District General Hospital in Powys, it is all the more important that we continue to have an air ambulance base in mid Wales.

"I am calling on individual regions like Powys Teaching Health Board, who will have the final [say] to reject the recommendation which clearly does not have the support of the of the public in mid Wales.”

Mr Williams said: “Local campaigning has been very strong and I am extremely proud of the way our communities have united to support this vital lifeline for our area. The people of mid Wales have donated and fundraised for the air ambulance for many years precisely because they know how important it is.

“Ever since the plans to close Welshpool’s base were haphazardly leaked out in August 2022, the ensuing consultation and engagement process has been extremely poor.

“The people of mid Wales will rightfully question whether this was a done deal from the start.”

Glantwymyn councillor Elwyn Vaughan said the recommendation to close Welshpool and Caernarfon bases and centralise them in the Rhuddlan area was a disgrace.

Elwyn Vaughan
(Picture supplied)

“Time after time mid Wales residents have clearly shown the need for this resource, the importance of the air ambulance and the distances to health services, yet all that seems to have been thrown to the wind on the basis of some unmet need elsewhere.

“Well if there’s a unmet need in north east Wales then the simple answer would be to place a rapid response vehicle there as happens in Cardiff because the reality is the helicopter won’t be able to be used very often in those urban settings as is the case in Cardiff.

“There’s no firm proposal, nothing concrete, nothing to alleviate the genuine concerns many have. No assurance or suggestion what or where that ‘clinical model’ will be and where’s the funding going to come from?

“This is not satisfactory and serious consideration now needs to be given to having a judicial review to ensure the voices of mid Wales residents are not ignore.”

Last Thursday on the ‘SAVE OUR BASE Wales Air Ambulance-Caernarfon’ Facebook page north Wales Air Ambulance campaigner Andy O'Regan issued a rallying cry to fellow campaigners.

He said: “Now the dust has settled on Stephen’s absurd recommendations in his final report, I feel that bringing our concerns to the CEO’s of our affected area health boards is the next step.

“So I’d like to ask Carol Shillabeer of Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board and Hayley Thomas of Bwrdd Iechyd Addysgu Powys/Powys Teaching Health Board to join our groups to see how these decisions will affect their patients and end users, so when they sit with Stephen Harrhy and listen to his fudged up report full of data which only supports their end result, they will have seen the stories and views that have been shared by us all over the past 18 months as to why this proposal will hit us in our rural and isolated communities.

“So we invite you both to have open conversation with us Carol and Hayley, so please do get in touch.

“And for our loyal campaigners, please share this post far and wide so it can’t be ignored, the fight for our bases isn’t over!

“Diolch o Galon pawb! Thank you all!”

Health Minister Eluned Morgan says no decision has been made yet, but Mabon ap Gwynfor fears what will happen if the commissioner’s recommendation does get the go-ahead.

He is so concerned for the safety of the public if Caernarfon and Welshpool bases close, that he decided to raise the issue in the Senedd in Cardiff on Wednesday.

He said: “The minister says no decision has been made but there is a recommendation to close Caernarfon and Welshpool and that recommendation will be a huge blow to people across north west and mid Wales.

“In rural areas such as these, the air ambulance service has been life saving, providing prompt emergency treatment.

“The report claims relocating the service to a site in the north east will lead to more people being treated sooner, but this will mean fewer communities being served, including those where transport links are very challenging.

“This is extremely worrying when the report recommends a rapid response vehicle (RRV) as the main emergency response for communities in north west Wales such as Dwyfor Meirionnydd, Ynys Mon or north Ceredigion and Trefaldwyn. The lack of detail in the report as to how many vehicles and where they will be located only adds to the worry.

“Consider for example the time it currently takes to get from Caernarfon to Pen Llyn. It only takes a few minutes in the air ambulance, but it would take an hour and a half or so in a road vehicle.

“People living in Gwynedd, Ceredigion, Maldwyn, Mon, mid and north west Wales have the right to access the same lifesaving services as all other areas.

“Despite the name air ambulance, the service is in fact a mobile hospital, and in areas where we don't have critical emergency care, it provides an essential service.

“In addition, losing the air ambulance from Welshpool and Caernarfon means losing specialised skills and fewer services for those living in those communities.

“Do you therefore recognise that these new arrangements leave communities in north west and mid Wales at a significant disadvantage compared to the current arrangement, and why does the Welsh government see this as an acceptable price worth paying?”

Health minister Eluned Morgan responded saying: “I understand the strength of feeling expressed by the Member, and I know the communities feel just as strongly.

“The Emergency Ambulance Services Committee is meeting on 19 March to consider the recommendations of the EMRTS service review and it would be inappropriate for me to comment or pre-empt any final decision.

“EASC is legally responsible for planning and securing EMRTS services and we shouldn't undermine the well-established governance put in place to make decisions like these.”

Montgomeryshire MS Russell George also spoke in the Senedd on Wednesday, raising concerns over how meaningful the engagement process had been.

The intervention comes after a process spanning 18 months in which three engagement phases, 45 meetings and tens of thousands of letters and signatures on petitions made it clear that the overwhelming view of mid Wales residents was that Welshpool should remain open.

Following his exchange in the Senedd with the health minister, Mr George said: “Analysis of the full-service review document, recommending closure, showed that while Welshpool covers 40 per cent of Wales’ population within 30 minutes by air, the proposed alternative base only covers 25 per cent.

“Maps published as part of the report also show clearly that a large proportion of mid Wales, from the coast to the border, will be significantly worse off in response times compared to current position.

“Closing Welshpool base cannot be an option. This is why I asked the minister to intervene. I pointed out to the minister that we have consistently been told nobody would be worse off with changes to the service. The recommendations that have now become public would lead to slower response times for us in mid Wales. There's no doubt about that.

“I also questioned what impact the engagement process had. Many will feel this was a done deal from the start. The minister has claimed that no final decision has been made, so she along with her Welsh Government colleagues now have the opportunity to intervene.”

Mr George, along with Craig Williams MP and other campaigners, are pushing for individual health boards to reject the proposals during their own opportunity to comment in the coming days.

Mr George added: “Health boards are regional for a reason. They are designed to tailor their work and efforts to the different needs of each area. I hope Powys Teaching Health Board will take this responsibility seriously, even if under pressure from elsewhere, and move to reject a proposal that is detrimental to the people of mid Wales.”

According to the Wales Air Ambulance charity’s own website, they have helped over 45,000 people in Wales in their hour of need since 2001.

The Wales Air Ambulance attends approximately 3,500 missions every year, ranging from road traffic collisions, serious trauma, cardiac arrests and neurological conditions.

The site also lists just a few of the fundraising efforts made by people across Ceredigion, Gwynedd and Powys to keep the air ambulance flying.

They include Ceredigion County Councillor Ceris Jones who raised over £2,100 for the Wales Air Ambulance to say thank you for helping to save her younger brother’s life, Ceredigion artist Margaret Worrall who raised £1,000 for Wales Air Ambulance through the sale of her paintings, Jason Jarrams from Llwyncelyn who raised just under £2,000 for the Wales Air Ambulance as a thank you after its crews flew to the aid of him and his brother-in-law following an accident in 2014, and the generous customers and staff at a Ceredigion Nisa store who raised £1,000 for the charity.

In Gwynedd camping and holiday park Cae Clyd donated £2,294 to keep the helicopters flying overhead thanks to money raised at a fun day festival at the site, Llanberis carnival committee donated £2,000, and Bala and District Motor Club raised an impressive £5,000 at their annual rally. What a slap in the face it would be to all of these fundraisers, and indeed to us all, if this vital service was removed from our area. We simply cannot afford to lose this life-saving resource.