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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 October 2006, 10:16 GMT 11:16 UK
Out of a crisis and into a storm?
Hywel Griffith
Health Correspondent

Emergency Service
Response times are still below target
By the end of the autumn, the auditor general for Wales is due to pass his verdict on the Welsh Ambulance Service.

Jeremy Colman was tasked with an inquiry after the service's interim chief executive quit, claiming hundreds of lives were at risk.

That was followed by the departure of a second chief executive in July, and the arrival of a third temporary boss.

A fourth, and permanent chief executive, Alan Murray, was appointed in August, bringing some stability.

Poor performance

But the calm may not last for long, depending on the findings of Mr Colman's inquiry.

PERFORMANCE 2005-06
Life threatening incidents reached in 8mins: 57% (Target 60%)
Annual staff sickness rate 6.3% (increase of 0.8%)
Surplus at March 31, 2006: #7,000
Number of emergency incidents: 279,039 (up 11,889)

Official performance figures show the Welsh Ambulance Service is continuing to miss targets on responding to emergency calls. It has also seen a recent increase in staff sickness rates.

The number of complaints is also increasing - up over 17% on last year.

However, unlike some parts of the NHS, it has narrowly managed to balance its books - finishing the last financial year with a very small surplus. All this while dealing with another rise in emergency calls.

The auditor general will have to decide where the problems lie - and whether the current structure of the service is fit for purpose.

Working quicker

New chief executive Alan Murray has already presented his analysis, saying there's no "shared strategy" for paramedics to follow. He also thinks the whole process has to speed up.

"Things like taking the call quicker, finding the location quicker," says Mr. Murray, "getting the right ambulance dispatched quicker, getting there quicker and spending less time at the scene."

These are the basics which, in his view, the Welsh Ambulance Service isn't getting right. Mr Murray says an investment of around 140m is needed over the next 10 years.

Spending

But would it be money well spent? Whilst its up to the Welsh Assembly Government to assess requests for extra funding, the auditor general's report should at least tell us if the ambulance service is moving in the right direction.

Having been through so many changes at the top, the other question is who should take responsibility for failings within the system.

If the auditor general is critical - who should carry the can? By the end of the autumn, we should have some answers.

A programme examining the challenges facing the NHS is being recorded in Caerleon, near Newport this month.

Me and My Health - A Debate is being broadcast at 2230 on 25 October on BBC One Wales.

If you would like to take part in the programme or have questions for the debate, email debatewales@bbc.co.uk or call 08703 500 700.


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