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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 February 2007, 12:31 GMT
Ambulance calls monitored by GPs
Ambulance control room view
Ambulance control staff will be able to turn to GPs for advice
GPs are being drafted into ambulance control rooms in an effort to reduce the number of unnecessary 999 hospital admissions, it has been announced.

The Welsh Ambulance Service said the extra staff will be brought in as demand for ambulances is expected to peak over the next six weeks.

On Monday, patients were left waiting in ambulances outside the Royal Glamorgan Hospital due to high demand.

The GPs will identify non-emergency patients and advise where to get help.

Welsh Ambulance Service NHS Trust Chief Executive Alan Murray said a new system put in place at the start of February has predicted high levels of 999 calls which are expected to peak in March.

'An alternative'

He said more people were currently experiencing cardiac chest pain, breathing difficulties and fall injuries placing extra pressure on ambulance and hospital resources.

But he added that as many as 20% of people who called for ambulance assistance were discharged from hospital without any further treatment.

He hoped the new initiative of placing GPs in ambulance control rooms would help identify those patients.

"Firstly those people will look for emergency calls which do not need an ambulance response and they will find an alternative," he said.

Alan Murray
About 20% of the people we take to accident and emergency departments are discharged without any further care
Alan Murray

"We've got a large number of people, and we always will have, who dial 999 because they have a problem and they don't know how to find the correct service and a lot of those people don't need an ambulance.

"The second purpose of putting GPs into ambulance control is so that ambulance crews when they are face-to-face with patients they don't feel need to go to hospital, can ring in and consult with a more senior person who can then make the decision that that person can go somewhere other than an accident and emergency department.

"About 20% of the people we take to accident and emergency departments are discharged without any further care.

"The people who dial 999 decide to do so themselves - our job is to help them decide what they really need.

"If we can identify all or most of that 20% who don't need care and find alternative points of care for those people we could reduce this problem substantially."

'Clinical assessment'

He said the GPs will be supported by advanced paramedic practitioners and experienced paramedics.

"They will provide a clinical assessment of calls and where appropriate, seek alternatives to an ambulance response," he said.

"It would free hospitals for more serious cases and free ambulances to deal with real life-threatening emergencies."

The move comes as official figures for bed-blocking incidents in Wales increased during January.

Figures showed there were 689 beds blocked by patients during January - 47 more than during December.

Out of those, 187 were in mental health facilities and the rest in acute or community hospitals.

An assembly government spokesman said: "More than 98% of hospital discharges across Wales are on time. Recorded delays are a third less than they were in 2003 and the length of delays for patients have fallen by 45%."

He said that they were working "to further tackle delayed transfers of care in acute and community hospitals".


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