Extreme temperatures this week lead to the Welsh Ambulance Service taking extreme measures as it dealt with high demand, but questions are being asked as to why the service has struggled to cope.

The number of calls earlier this week soared with the high temperatures forcing the service to declare a business continuity incident.

The Trust has been receiving in the region of 2,000 calls per day via 999 for the last few days.

Incidents on Monday were nine per cent higher than predicted, up 11 per cent from last Monday and up 29 per cent from the same Monday last year. Immediately life-threatening ‘Red’ calls were also up by almost 30 per cent compared to last Monday.

Call volume, coupled with lengthy delays at hospitals across Wales, meant that demand on the service exceeded its capacity to respond. As a result, some patients waited many hours for an ambulance.

The ambulance service put special arrangements in place to manage demand, including asking some patients to make an alternative arrangement, such as making their own way to hospital.

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Director of Operations Lee Brooks said: “It’s very rare that we declare a business continuity incident and it’s not a decision that we take lightly – it’s a sign of a serious situation.

“Yesterday’s heat coupled with the delays at hospitals meant we reached a point in the early evening where demand actually overtook our capacity to respond in a safe and timely way.

“For anyone who had an excessive wait for an ambulance yesterday, we are very sorry for your experience and this is not the service we want to provide.

“While we’re in a more stable position today, we’re still experiencing extreme pressures right across Wales, and we need the public’s help.

“Please only call 999 if a life is on the line – that’s a cardiac arrest, chest pain or breathing difficulties, loss of consciousness, choking or catastrophic bleeding.”

But a Senedd MS says the current problems for the ambulance service go much deeper than the weather.

Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru's North Wales MS, argues under investment in the health service was to blame for the issues with the ambulance service, and the crisis couldn’t just be blamed on the summer heat.

He said: "The pressures on our health service are historic as well as Covid related. They've faced a decade of under-investment that has left serious gaps in the service and the problems facing the ambulance service is just one example of this.

"The problems are also inter-related. Primary care, that is GP practices, have had to reduce their face-to-face services due Covid and many patients have been unable to access their family doctor. As a result, more people are waiting until they are so ill that they need an ambulance or are taking themselves to emergency departments. 

"These in turn become clogged up and that means that ambulances arriving are unable to discharge their patients.

"It's a vicious circle that we as a party have flagged up for many years.”

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We recognise health services are under strain as they recover from the pandemic. We have made £100m available immediately to help them recover from the pandemic and another £25m to transform urgent and emergency care, to relieve pressure on GPs, ambulances and emergency departments.

"The recent hot weather, which coincides with the start of a busy summer holiday period,  has increased pressure on our ambulance service and emergency departments and we would ask people to consider carefully how to get the care they need, advice on non-urgent care is available via the 111 online service and your local pharmacist.

"There has been a significant increase in GP speciality training recruitment figures for a number of years. We have increased the fill rates across Wales as a whole and specifically in the training schemes in North Wales.

"The Welsh Ambulance Service recruited an additional 136 ambulance clinicians last year, and plans are well advanced to add at least another 127 staff in this financial year.

"We have also recently announced record funding of £227m to invest in the NHS Wales workforce, which will help us increase training places.”

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