I am backing a campaign launched by Welsh Conservatives in the Senedd to force the Welsh Government to recognise that strokes should be given a higher priority for ambulance responses.
At the moment, people who suffer a stroke are placed by the Welsh Ambulance Service in the amber category, for which there are no target times for response. Red calls have the highest priority with a response time target of eight minutes although, in September, only 50 per cent of these calls were reached within that time.
When Welsh Government decided in 2015 to downgrade strokes into the amber category, they were putting patients suffering from this potentially deadly condition at serious risk.
We all know about the so-called golden hour – that’s the first hour following a stroke – when clot-busting drugs or other interventions can have dramatic and beneficial results. But after an hour, the likelihood of serious or irreversible harm significantly increases.
Welsh Government shamelessly moved the goalposts in a desperate bid to improve its response times for red calls. Their solution was not to improve the service but to remove serious conditions like strokes from the red category. Even with that change, they are still failing to hit the 65 per cent of red calls arriving within the eight-minute target. This has not been met for over two years.
The situation for amber calls is even worse. In September, more than 64 per cent of amber calls had to wait more than an hour for a response. We have a great deal of anecdotal evidence about the deadly effects of these delays. People have reported waiting up to 13 hours for an ambulance to attend to a stroke victim, with others reporting waits of eight hours and three hours. These wait times are unacceptable.
In England, the ambulance service has a special category for suspected stroke patients and there was an average wait time of just 48 minutes for stroke patients in the most recent figures. More than 7000 people in Wales experience a stroke each year- the fourth leading cause of death.
It is time that Welsh Government changed the rules and either created a special category as in England or restored strokes to the red call classification. People in Wales are needlessly dying as a result of their changes. This is a national scandal.