WALES’ Auditor General has said there are “now real risks that patients will come to harm” as healthcare systems and A&E departments continue to be overwhelmed and miss key patient targets.
Auditor General, Adrian Crompton, of Audit Wales, said that “unscheduled care system in Wales is currently experiencing unprecedented pressures.”
“A&E departments are struggling to cope, with patients facing long and often uncomfortable waits before they can be treated or admitted to a ward,” he said.
The warnings come as latest figures for February show that targets for A&E waiting times and ambulance response were missed again.
An Audit Wales report found: “Many patients needing an emergency ambulance can face extremely long waits.
“Across Wales as a whole, the target for responding to the most serious life threatening 999 calls has not been met since July 2020.
“The ability of the ambulance service to respond to an emergency call is seriously hampered by many of its vehicles having lengthy waits outside A&E departments before they can handover their patients.
“In February 2022 the equivalent of 827 hours a day of ambulance time was lost to ‘handover delays’.
“These pressures are putting huge stress on staff working in unscheduled care services and are creating significant risks for patients.
“Whilst the pandemic has undoubtedly created a new set of pressures on services, managing demand for unscheduled care has been a challenge for many years.
“The target of admitting or discharging 95 per cent of A&E patients within four hours has not been met for the four years leading up to the pandemic and performance had been on a steady decline.
“Similarly, the ambulance response time for serious but not life threatening 999 calls has been lengthening since 2017.”
Audit Wales said it will be “undertaking work to assess how the system is responding to these pressures in the context of the new Welsh Government policy” during 2022.
Mr Crompton said: “Providing timely and responsive urgent and emergency care has presented a significant challenge to the NHS and its partners for many years.
“This challenge has been brought into even sharper focus by the pressures caused by the pandemic, meaning there are now real risks that patients will come to harm as a result of the unscheduled care system not being able to respond to their needs.
“It is crucial that the new policy launched by Welsh Government starts to drive immediate improvements.
“The work that Audit Wales will carry out during 2022 will examine this more closely by looking at key aspects of the care system.”
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