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Health

Investigation launched following Herald report on ‘ambulance delay’ death

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THE WELSH AMBULANCE SERVICE has confirmed to this newspaper that it has launched a formal investigation following the death of 40-year-old Charlotte Burston on New Year’s Eve, amid allegations of delayed emergency response.

Charlotte, a mother of two from Llanteg, succumbed to a hypoxic brain injury after her family’s repeated attempts to secure an ambulance were unsuccessful.

Liam Williams, the Executive Director of Quality and Nursing at the Welsh Ambulance Service, expressed his deep regret over the incident. “We were deeply sorry to hear about Ms Burston’s passing and extend our heartfelt thoughts and condolences to her family during this difficult time. We have initiated a thorough investigation and are in direct communication with Ms Burston’s family to address their concerns and any questions they might have,” Williams stated.

The sequence of events leading to Ms. Burston’s tragic death began on Christmas morning when she experienced severe tingling sensations in one arm.

Despite her daughter Ella’s immediate attempts to call for medical help, the family claims their pleas were not answered in time. Ultimately, a relative attempted to transport Charlotte to Withybush General Hospital by car, during which she suffered a major heart attack and never regained consciousness.

Vincent Laye, father to Charlotte’s daughters, has vocally criticised the NHS for what he perceives as a failure to deliver adequate care. “Had an ambulance arrived within 15 minutes of the first emergency call, Charlotte would likely still be alive,” Laye asserted. He highlighted the emotional toll on their family and the broader community, evidenced by the large turnout at Ms. Burston’s funeral.

The case has raised significant concerns about the responsiveness of emergency services, especially during holiday periods, and has sparked a broader debate on the state of the NHS and the pressures it faces. Sonia Thompson, Assistant Director of Operations at the Welsh Ambulance Service, acknowledged the critical stress on the service and the health system overall, emphasising ongoing efforts to innovate and improve service delivery amidst these challenges.

The Welsh Government has responded to the crisis by committing to investments in emergency care, additional community beds, and social care services, aiming to alleviate hospital patient flow issues.

This investigation comes at a time of heightened scrutiny of the NHS and its ability to respond to emergencies, with the Burston family’s ordeal highlighting the devastating consequences of alleged systemic failures.

Health

No improvement in cancer waiting times despite Welsh Govt plan

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TWO years after the Welsh Government unveiled its ambitious plan to overhaul cancer care and reduce waiting times, the latest data reveals a stark reality: there has been no significant improvement.

New figures from NHS Wales indicate that nearly half of cancer patients are still waiting over 62 days to begin treatment. This troubling statistic underscores the ongoing crisis in Welsh cancer care, despite the dedicated efforts of healthcare professionals.

Glenn Page, Policy and Public Affairs Manager for Macmillan Cancer Support, expressed his concern, stating: “Around half of people diagnosed with cancer are having to wait more than 62 days to start treatment. There are real people’s lives behind these unacceptable figures. At Macmillan, we hear every day from patients and their loved ones about the unbearable anxiety and worry these delays cause, on top of everything else a diagnosis brings.”

The persistent delays in cancer treatment have significant implications. Survival rates in Wales lag behind those in other countries by as much as 20 years, a disparity that reflects the severe strain on NHS cancer services. Despite minor improvements from the previous month, the performance remains worse than the same period in three of the past four years.

In May 2024, over 800 people in Wales waited more than 62 days to start cancer treatment, accounting for 45% of all patients who began treatment that month. This is a slight improvement from the previous month’s 53.8%, yet still highlights the systemic issues within the NHS.

Particularly concerning are the waiting times for specific cancer types. Only 33.3% of urological cancer patients and 34.3% of head and neck cancer patients started treatment within the target time in May 2024. Macmillan’s analysis further reveals that survival rates for colon and rectal cancer in women in Wales are only now reaching the levels seen in Sweden and Norway in the early 2000s.

Macmillan Cancer Support is calling for urgent action from the Welsh Government. Page urges the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care to update the nation on the progress towards meeting the commitments made to improve cancer services and reduce waiting times. “We need assurance that tangible steps are being taken to ensure people living with cancer receive the timely care and support they need,” Page emphasised.

The latest NHS statistics have drawn criticism from the opposition. Commenting on the figures, Sam Rowlands MS, Welsh Conservative Shadow Health Minister, said: “These abysmal statistics show Labour’s performance on health continues to get worse here in Wales. The Labour Welsh Government have consistently missed their targets and this is not just the outgoing First Minister’s legacy, but the result of 25 years of Labour mismanaging the Welsh NHS. The Welsh Conservatives would enact a substantial workforce plan to empower primary care services and would fully resource the Welsh NHS with every penny received for health, as opposed to Labour’s decision to squander these funds on creating more politicians.”

In response, a Welsh Government spokesperson acknowledged the challenges but highlighted the efforts and progress being made: “Our incredibly hard-working NHS staff continue to provide life-saving and life-changing care in the face of incredible demand for its services. More than 14,250 people were told the good news that they do not have cancer in May – an incredible number. It is pleasing to see performance improved against the 62-day target too.

“The number of immediately life-threatening (red) 999 calls to the ambulance service made each day was the second highest on record, and the proportion of these calls was the highest recorded. This level of demand – a 28% increase compared to the same month in 2023 – means it is increasingly tough to meet the target response times, but even so, there was an improvement in June and almost eight out of 10 calls received a response within 15 minutes.

“Performance against the 12-hour target for emergency departments improved slightly in June and the majority of people were discharged, admitted or transferred in less than two hours and 50 minutes. The number of emergency admissions decreased by 5.6% this month – a further indication that work through our national Six Goals programme to care for people closer to home is having an impact.”

The spokesperson admitted the overall disappointment in NHS performance figures: “The waiting list has grown again and, after 24 months of consecutive falls, the number of people waiting more than two years for treatment has increased for the second month in a row. The Health Secretary has made it clear to health boards that she expects to see progress – and sustained progress – to reduce long waits and waiting times for treatments. She will be making it clear to the leadership of health boards today that the situation is not acceptable and must improve.”

In closing, the spokesperson highlighted the scale of the challenge: “There is still a way to go to reduce the backlog, which built up during the pandemic. But the NHS continues to deliver an enormous amount of activity for a population of 3 million people – since April 2022, more than 2.5 million patient pathways have been closed at an average of 103,000 a month.”

Key Facts:

  • In May 2024, more than 800 people in Wales waited over 62 days to start cancer treatment.
  • Performance improved slightly from the previous month but remains worse compared to the same period in three of the past four years.
  • 2023 was the worst year on record for cancer waiting times in Wales.
  • The national cancer waiting times target in Wales has never been met since its introduction.
  • For some cancers, such as urological and head and neck cancers, only around one-third of patients started treatment on time in May 2024.
  • Survival rates for colon and rectal cancer in women in Wales are just now reaching levels achieved by Sweden and Norway in the early 2000s.

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Community

Petitions against Pembrokeshire day care centre closures to be discussed

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TWO PETITIONS calling on Pembrokeshire County Council to reverse its decision to close day care centres in Pembroke Dock, Crymych and Narberth are to be heard at County Hall later this week.

The two petitions, on the council’s own e-petitions webpage, drew nearly 3,400 signatures between them.

Earlier this year, senior councillors backed plans to close two of the county’s centres for older adults and those with learning disabilities, Portfield SAC, Haverfordwest, and Avenue SAC, Tenby; service users moving to other centres in the county.

The county council is currently changing care provision for older adults and those with learning disabilities, and fears have been raised recently that Pembroke Dock’s Anchorage day care centre is to close.

A series of engagement events have taken place at The Anchorage recently, outlining the reasons and the options in continued service.

One parent, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “One young woman who attends ran out of the first meeting sobbing when she was told it was going to close.

“Another, at the second meeting, tried to address the meeting, but was so choked up at the thought of not seeing her friends any more she could hardly speak.”

It now is feared Narberth’s Lee Davies Day Care Centre and Crymych’s Bro Preseli Day Centre could also close, with concerns it is due solely to budgetary reasons.

An e-petition on the council’s own website, by John Llewellyn of Living Memory Group, entitled against the closure of the Lee Davies and Bro Preseli day care centres.

The two petitions, which have now both closed, attracted 1,701 and 1,675 signatures respectively.

As they have both met the threshold for debate at council, they will both be heard at the July 18 meeting of full council.

Peter Welsh, in his petition for Pembroke Dock’s The Anchorage, says: “We call on Pembrokeshire County Council to reverse its decision to close the Anchorage Social Activity Centre based in Pembroke Dock as part of the council’s reduction in services being imposed following the recent budget approval.”

Mr Llewellyn’s petition for the Lee Davies and Bro Preseli day care centres reads: “We call on Pembrokeshire County Council to Review the closure of the Lee Davies Day Care Centre at Bloomfield’s and the Bro Preseli Day Centre at Crymych.

“Staff at both Day Care Centres were informed in Mid-March that both facilities would be closing due to PCC budget cuts. Both centres are an essential outlet for the well-being of the attendees and their families.”

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Health

Hywel Dda introduces central waiting list for routine NHS dental care

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THE CENTRAL waiting list is aimed at supporting patients in the Hywel Dda area who wish to access routine dental care.

Patients will be asked to add their name and contact details to the waiting list so that they can be allocated to a dental service as one becomes available.

Adding your details to the waiting list is simple and can be done in a number of ways.

  • Patients can complete the online form by using a QR code, which will be available on posters in community settings and GP surgeries.
  • Alternatively, they can follow this link: https://forms.office.com/e/Q0xJvJK7VF
  • Patients can also call 0300 303 8322 and a member of the team will complete the online form on your behalf using the information provided.
  • Or the dental services team can be contacted by e-mail at dentalservicesteam. [email protected]

Patient information will be organised according to the county in which they live – Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion or Pembrokeshire – and in chronological order from the date on which information was submitted using the online form or collected by a call handler. 

Once capacity becomes available, patients will be contacted by the Dental Practice they are allocated to.

Please note that for the form to be submitted all patients will need to include their NHS number. This can be found on correspondence from your GP or Hospital, alternatively you may access your NHS number through the following link:

Find your NHS number – NHS (www.nhs.uk)

We are unable to advise at this time when patients will be allocated to a practice, if you require urgent dental care due to uncontrolled bleeding following a dental procedure or trauma to the mouth, facial swelling and/or dental pain, you should contact 111 and you will be given necessary advice and/or appointment as appropriate.

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